Mites in Guinea Pigs
Mites are small insect parasites that can cause serious skin problems for your guinea pig. The two common guinea pig fur mites are Trixacarus caviae (sarcoptic mange mite) and Chirodiscoides caviae.
Your guinea pig may acquire these fur mites from other infested guinea pigs he/she may come in contact with at the breeder’s facility, pet store, shelter or previously contaminated bedding.
"Mites are reasonably easy to treat on your guinea pig, but they can be quite serious if left untreated."
What kinds of problems can mites cause in my guinea pig?
Mites can affect a guinea pig of any age and sex, and at the early infestation stage, your guinea pig may not show any signs or symptoms. Your pet may or may not be itchy. It all depends on the type of mite and if he/she is hypersensitive to mite bites. Here’s why it depends on the type of mite.
Chirodiscoides caviae may show mild to no clinical signs at all, and are generally not life threatening.
Trixacarus caviae (sarcoptic mange mite) can be very severe because they cause extreme itchiness. They’re so itchy that your guinea pig may become traumatized and even go into seizures. A guinea pig infested with sarcoptic mange mites can even die.
"A guinea pig infested with sarcoptic mange mites can even die, so it’s important to see your veterinarian if you notice constant itchiness and scratching."
With sarcoptic mange mite, the following conditions may occur:
• The affected skin will get thick, perhaps yellowish and crusty
• Your guinea pig will lose hair in the infested area
• A secondary bacterial skin infection is commonly found
• In time, weight loss is common, and the pet becomes debilitated, lethargic and depressed
How does my veterinarian diagnose mites in a guinea pig?
Your veterinarian should examine your guinea pig regularly (at least once a year) to identify mites as early as possible and provide treatment.
• First, your veterinarian will examine your pet’s fur and skin for evidence of mites and other external parasites.
• Cultures for bacteria and fungus may be done as well.
• And, your veterinarian may run diagnostic tests to make sure there aren’t other diseases or problems causing the itching and scratching.
How does my veterinarian treat a guinea pig with mites?
If the guinea pig is badly debilitated, your veterinarian may suggest hospitalization to build up the animal’s strength.
In addition, there are no specific drugs for managing mites in guinea pigs, so it’s likely your veterinarian will suggest an “off-label” use of products designed for dogs and cats. These may include topical cat medications such as Advantage™ or Revolution™. They appear to be safe but should ONLY be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with guinea pigs.
Your veterinarian may also recommend topical flea powders, premise sprays or even professional pest exterminators. Before considering any of these treatment, be sure to ask your veterinarian about using them safely.
Since adult mites can live off the guinea pig in carpets, bedding and other fabrics for short periods of time, be sure to clean and treat your home and other areas where the animal resides, plays and visits — since mite eggs or adults may have fallen off the animal in those areas. This treatment must be long enough to get the adult from the last mite egg that hatches.
Certain products should never be used on guinea pigs. DO NOT use mite collars on guinea pigs. DO NOT use organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays or permethrin spot-ons on your pet guinea pig.
"For safety’s sake, always consult with a veterinarian familiar with guinea pigs and fur mites before using any topical and environmental treatments!"
Should I be concerned about mites affecting my family?
Guinea pig mites do not like living on people, so it shouldn’t be a problem even if your guinea pig becomes infested. If someone in your family is sensitive to mites, he/she may develop a mild and likely temporary dermatitis (skin infection). If you’re ever concerned, talk with your family doctor.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Dr. Rick Axelson, DVM.