Ectoparasites (external parasites)
There are several types of mites and lice that can infest a guinea pig. The three most common are Trixacaus caviae (a scabies mite), Chirodiscoides caviae (the guinea pig fur mite), Gliricola porcelli (slender guinea pig louse) and the oval guinea pig louse (Gyropus ovalis).
Less Common Parasites
Both lice and the fur mite are less common in Guinea Pigs. Lice feed on the hair shaft of the guinea pig and cause alopecia (fur loss), a rough hair coat and mild puritis (itchiness). These symptoms are usually only seen in cases with heavy infestations or some type of underlying immunosuppression.
Lice and their eggs (nits) can been seen in the fur of the guinea pig. Here is a video (rather shakey I’m sorry to say) of lice moving about in the fur of a guinea pig.
Scabies – The Mite of Itchiness
Scabies is a term that most commonly refers to Sarcoptes scabei. Guinea pigs can get that mite, but do so rarely. The most common problem-causing mite for guinea pigs is Trixacaus caviae. This mite looks very similar to the other members of the scabies family. It is a burrowing mite that causes alopecia, crusting and an intense puritis. The itching can be so bad that a guinea pig may scratch herself so much she causes trauma and secondary bacterial infections. Anorexia with severe weight loss and increased vocalizations may occur. In some cases just touching an infected pig will induce a seizure.
The areas most commonly affected are between the shoulders, along the back and the rump area. But any part of the body may be affected. Here is a severely alopecic guinea pig and some images of the mites.
This Guinea Pig has fur loss and thickening of the skin due to mites
This mite is most likely Trixacaus caviae
Treatment for all these parasites involves injectable ivermectin or topical selamectin. The life cycle of the mites/lice involves several stages and the medication can only kill one of the stages so treatment is usually repeated 2 or 3 times.
But My Guinea Pig Has Been Fine for Years…
Guinea pigs can carry mites in their skin – and not show any signs. Sometimes, when stressed such as with old age or with disease, dermatitis (skin infection) may develop. Vitamin C deficiency is a common cause of stress since (like humans) guinea pigs must get Vit C from their food. It’s also possible they’ve had one of the less noticeable parasites (like the fur mite) that becomes a problem once other disease is present.
My Guinea Pig Keeps Getting Mites…
Do you have another guinea pig? -as you should!
Guinea pigs are very social and should live in groups. Often the unaffected buddy is acting as a little Typhoid Mary and re-infecting the sensitive guinea pig.
Make sure to treat all “in contact” pigs!
Life Gets Better with the Right Meds
Here is an image of that itchy pig from before. This is only 2 weeks into treatment – look how much better he looks.
This Guinea Pig is only 2 weeks into treatment – look at the improvement!
What About Me?
Can you get mites and lice from your guinea pig? Yes and no…most of the little critters prefer the piggies so we don’t have to worry. The various mites in the sarcoptes family can be hard to ID. It appears that the guinea pig version (Trixacaus caviae) doesn’t like humans but some of the others do.
In general, these mites may bite people and cause itching but they don’t seem to infest people. Still, if you have skin issues it would be a good idea to take it up with your dermatologist. Maybe you have an immune suppression issue to be concerned about…