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Parasitic diseases in guinea pigs

Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs. Lice are tiny, wingless, flattened insects that live within the hair coat; both the adults and their eggs are found attached to individual hairs. A mite similar to the scabies mite of people causes serious infestations in pet guinea pig.

Your questions answered

How will I know if my guinea pig has lice?

Two types of biting lice may affect guinea pigs. Both scratch the skin surface and feed off of body fluids that exude through the very superficial wounds they create.

Light infestations usually go unnoticed, but heavy infestations are usually accompanied with excessive itching, scratching and some hair loss, and scabs may also be evident on and around the ears. Your vet can confirm the diagnosis by direct examination of the hair coat.

Direct examination is usually all that is necessary, though use of a microscope is very helpful. Your vet will usually prescribe an insecticide shampoo to treat affected guinea pigs.

Lice can be transmitted by direct and intimate contact between infested and uninfected guinea pig. Therefore, pet guinea pigs are very unlikely to harbour these parasites unless they are recent acquisitions that were previously in contact with louse-infested guinea pigs.

Being placed in close contact with new infested guinea pigs could also infest established pet guinea pigs. Guinea pig lice do not parasitism people.

How will I know if my guinea pig has mites?

A mite similar to the scabies mite of people causes serious infestations in guinea pig. Mites are microscopic, spider-like organisms that live within the outer layers of the skin.

They usually cause intense scratching and significant hair loss. Some cases without scratching have been reported. Some guinea pigs are so miserable because of the infestation that their constant scratching produces serious wounds.

They may run wildly or in circles, and occasionally even have convulsions. A vet must do a number of scrapings of the skin to confirm the diagnosis.

Successful treatment consists of 1-4 injections of an anti-parasitic drug 10-44 days apart. Any wood shavings within the enclosure should be replaced by white paper toweling during treatment to help make the patient more comfortable.

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