What People Most Want To Know About Skin Parasites
Guinea pigs will occasionally scratch themselves, but repeated scratching may indicate your pet has mites and/or lice, especially if accompanied by hair loss and "dandruff". The most common of these parasites will only be found on guinea pigs and are species specific, meaning they cannot be transmitted to people or other species of animal.
Parasites that only successfully live and breed on a guinea pig are:
And the most common parasite by far is the MANGE MITE. This microscopic mite causes excruciating pain. Treat promptly with ivermectin!
Trixacarus caviae Selnic mites, also known as mange mites
Guinea pig lice
Chirodiscoides Caviae, a relatively harmless fur mite
Two varieties of mite also live on other animals:
Psoroptes cuniculi, the rabbit ear mite
Cheyletiella Parasitivorax, an extremely irritating fur mite that can infest dogs, cats, and other animals and cause dermatitis in humans
Aside from a few rare cases of infestation by Cheyletiella Parasitivorax (" itchy red bump disease"), none of the other mites can live on humans. However, the digestive juices of some of these parasites can irritate human skin.
All parasites can, of course, be easily passed from one guinea pig to another in pet stores. If one of your guinea pigs has mites or lice, they must all be treated and their living quarters cleaned thoroughly. Since some parasites can live for several days off the host many parasite eggs remain viable for a long time, cleaning and disinfecting the living area is extremely important. New pigs may not only harbor illnesses, but parasites as well, a compelling reason for quarantining new animals from pets you already have. Some breeders routinely treat new animals for topical parasites while in quarantine to avoid exposing the whole herd.
Parasites sometimes seem to appear out of nowhere. Many infestations are so minor that they are not noticed (the immune response in a healthy animal reportedly keeps the population down, especially true of Sellnic mites). An animal under stress, such as a sow in late pregnancy or a guinea pig suffering from another illness is vulnerable to an outbreak. So besides the possibility that the parasite has been recently introduced, your pet may have had them all along, but exhibited no signs.
Mites and lice generally are passed through direct contact with a carrier or from contact with bedding, utensils, or clothing that has been contaminated by the insects or eggs. Wood chips and other bedding which has not been in contact with a carrier will not harbor mites or lice.
Don't forget that a guinea pig may be suffering from one or more problems. He may have lice, mites, a fungal infection and vitamin C deficiency all at the same time. While you can generally see lice and the larger mites in the fur, microscopic mange mites can be difficult to find, even by a vet after repeated "skin scrapings". A good exotics vet will help you sort out what treatments are appropriate for your guinea pig and try new medications if your pet's condition does not improve.
Parasite treatments: On fur mites and lice try topical ivermectin or Advantage (Advantage reportedly works very well on lice but does not treat mange mites). Sellnic mites are usually treated with precise doses of ivermectin given orally, topically or by injection. Ear mites, with a small amount of topical ivermectin. (all ivermectin treatments must be repeated at least once, 7 to 10 days later, since it does not kill eggs). Read more about Ivermectin, its uses and dangers, at this site.
Fleas and Ticks Information on ticks and fleas is readily available from various sources. Neither insect is host specific. Removing ticks by hand is difficult and despite your best efforts (a specially designed tweezers works well), mouth parts may remain, making it necessary to clean and disinfect the area thoroughly and watch for signs of infection. Fleas usually require treating the animal, the home, and the yard. Search for safe and effective treatments. An article at the Texas Agricultural Extension Service site may be helpful in determining how to rid your house and pet of fleas.
Beware of flea and tick powders and shampoos -- many contain pesticides that are dangerous for guinea pigs.