Halloween Hazards

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Fright Night is Almost Here!

What’s fun for most of us can be scary or dangerous for our pets.  Here’s a few thoughts to mull over this Halloween.

  • Toxins – many of our exotic pets love to chew.  Chocolate, sugary treats and caffeine are common items this weekend that should be kept out of reach. Keep an eye on that bowl of candy or decorations.  autumn-candy-mix
  • Costumes and Decorations – watch out for flying hazards, novel items to chew or hiding places that your little critter could get stuck in.  String, buttons, toxic bits of dangling costumes or decorations are attractive but could cause serious health issues.  Don’t allow access to anything you aren’t sure is healthy.
  • Activity – stress from the constantly ringing doorbell, loud party noises or exciting decorations that make noise can all result in an unhappy or sick pet.  Make sure your pet has a quiet and calm place to wait out the storm.
  • Pumpkins  – while pumpkins are more of a concern for the active and larger pet (dogs, cats, large bunnies) they can be a tasty treat for others (birds, turtles, tortoises….).  Just make sure no toxic paints or decorations are left on the item to be eaten.  Also, if that pumpkin was carved and set out a few days ago…it’s probably not something you want to eat.  hot-head-pumpkin-
  • Candles – the main concern here is a fire hazard if your frightened pet knocks one over.  It’s never a good idea to leave unattended candles in a house.

Happy Haunting!


Turtle Ear Infections – Yes, Turtles Have Ears

Look at this happy Red Eared Slider.

This is one of the most common species of turtle pet we see out here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They are hardy, happy little guys.  But they can still develop problems.

Red Eared Slider

The Aural Abscess

Aural = ear (oral = mouth, yes they are pronounced the same…)

A very common problem we see is the turtle ear infection or abscess.  Turtles get infections just like us but unlike mammals, they produce a very thick pus that prevents antibiotics from clearing up some infections.  In this case, the ears.

In the picture below, there is a slightly blurry (sorry!) swelling or protrusion visible just under the human thumb.  Turtle ears should be flat – they aren’t meant to be “outies”.  Some turtles don’t show any signs, but many will feel ill, not want to eat or be in pain from this infection.

Red Eared Slider ear swelling

So what causes this?

Unfortunately that’s not always clear or may be due to a number of different issues.  Inappropriate temperatures, inadequate diets and improper care can set a reptile up to be more susceptible to opportunistic bacteria.  Cages that are not cleaned well enough or often enough and water that does not have a strong filtration system or just isn’t cleaned enough allow bacteria to flourish.  Exposure to that bacteria or even long term ingestion of it can lead to bacterial infections.

The most common dietary problem is not enough Vitamin A (hypovitaminosis A).  This changes how the cells lining the ears, mouth and other areas (from non-squamous cells to squamous cells) are shaped.  With this change, it is easier for bacteria to get a foothold.

So Basically..?

Something causes immunosuppression or changes to the cells shapes, then bacteria takes up lodging and finally the body responds and a thick caseous (or cottage cheese-like) plug starts to form.

Now What?

It’s time for surgical removal.  The surgery itself is not complicated but it would be horribly painful to perform on an awake turtle so we need to sedate or anesthetize them and provide pain control.  Here is an image of the “pus ball” being removed on a sedated turtle.

Red Eared Slider Ear Pus

The End Result

Changes in care (husbandry), temperatures and diet must be made, or the infection would be expected to return.  Antibiotics can be given – ideally they are based off of an aerobic (oxygen-loving) and anaerobic (oxygen-hating) bacterial culture.

The Itchy Piggy

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.

Mites in a Guinea Pig

This Guinea Pig has fur loss and thickening of the skin due to mites

Guinea Pig Mite

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.

Guinea Pig, mid mite-treatment

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…