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…

Hay, It’s Not Just for Rabbits

What’s This Hay Stuff All About?
Hay is the primary food for most of our small mammals like rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.  While rats, mice and hamsters will benefit from hay in their environment, they don’t need to eat it.  Pellets are very nutrient dense.  They can lead to obesity if overfed.  Pellets should only be a very small portion of your pets daily food intake.  On the other hand, grass hays provide the high fiber, low protein diet these small exotic mammals need.

Ok, So Which Hay?
All grass hays provide appropriate nutrients -that doesn’t mean your pet won’t have a preference.  The most common grass hay is Timothy hay.  It is readily available and usually a good choice for that reason alone.  Some people feel that Guinea Pigs prefer Orchard Grass hay.  It has a softer texture and a sweeter flavor.  Oat Hay has a high stem content resulting in a “crunchy” texture.  There are usually several immature seed heads present as well.  Organic Meadow Hay is generally a mix of several types of grass hays.  Keep in mind that different bags of hay will vary in color, taste, texture and smell – variations in soil, sunshine and weather cause these changes.  It is a good idea to transition between bags of hay (even bags of the same variety) rather than perform a sudden switch.  A good way to prevent hay bag snobbery (your pet won’t eat his or her new hay) is to offer a variety of hay all the time.

But What About Alfalfa?
Alfalfa hay is NOT a grass hay – it is a legume.  It has higher values of protein, calcium and energy.  Alfalfa hay is recommended for young, growing animals.  It can be used as a treat to tempt older animals that aren’t eating well.  In some cases, Alfalfa pellets may be appropriate in small quantities for show bunnies or pregnant bunnies because of their higher energy needs.

How Much Hay?
Small mammals should always have hay available – free choice feeding.  In general, a rabbit should consume its body size in hay daily, while chinchillas and guinea pigs eat about two times their body size.

OK, But How Much…Is There Too Much?
Nope!
Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

Isn’t this a happy bunny?  Now look at him without his hay…

Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

Not Just Food! 

One of the other “uses” for hay is to provide environmental enrichment.  Hay can stimulate natural behaviors such as foraging and grazing.  Hide treats (low sugar, high fiber treats that is) in baskets or hay mangers.  Provide deep piles for your pet to burrow through or hide in.  Even mammals that don’t eat hay can enjoy both a sense of security and fun from a large pile of hay.  Rats, mice, hamsters…even ferrets!

Image(photo by Dr. Micah Kohles)

A Final Word on Hay

One very important job of hay is to help our pets with “open root” teeth is to wear them down.  “Aradicular” or “Elodont” teeth have continuously growing teeth.  The teeth of rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas are all open-rooted, while in rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils it is only the incisors that continuously grow.  The best way to keep these teeth in shape is to be chewing long stems of fibrous plants (also known as hay!).  Without an appropriate grinding motion, open-rooted teeth can grow inappropriately, develop points and even grow in the wrong direction.  Once the tooth becomes abnormal only a dental procedure under anesthesia can correct the problem.