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 that she comes in contact with or from previously contaminated bedding. Mites can affect a guinea pig of any age or sex.
What kinds of problems can mites cause in my guinea pig?
Early in the infection, your guinea pig may not show any signs. Your pet may or may not be itchy. It all depends on the type of mite and if she is hypersensitive to mite bites.
Chirodiscoides caviae mites may cause mild to no clinical signs at all and are generally not life-threatening.
Trixacarus caviae mites (sarcoptic mange mite) can cause extreme clinical signs because they cause extreme itchiness. These mites cause such itchiness that your guinea pig may even go into seizures and die.
"Sarcoptic mange mites can cause extreme clinical signs because they cause extreme itchiness."
With sarcoptic mange mites, the following signs may occur:
- Affected skin will get thick and sometimes yellowish and crusty.
- There may be hair loss in the affected area.
- Secondary bacterial skin infection commonly occurs.
- In time, weight loss is common, and your guinea pig may become debilitated, lethargic, and depressed.
How will my veterinarian diagnose mites in my 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.
- If your veterinarian sees evidence of skin disease, cultures for bacteria and fungus may be taken as well.
- Your veterinarian also may run diagnostic tests to make sure the itching and scratching are not caused by other diseases.
How are guinea pigs with mites treated?
If your guinea pig is badly debilitated, your veterinarian may suggest hospitalization for supportive care to build up the animal's strength.
In addition, there are no specific drugs specifically formulated for managing mites in guinea pigs, so it is 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® or injectable anti-parasitic medications. These drugs are safe in guinea pigs, 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 treatments, be sure to ask your veterinarian about using them safely.
Since adult mites can survive off of your guinea pig, for example 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 adult mites 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. Your veterinarian can advise you about how to do this.
"Before considering any of these treatments, be sure to ask your veterinarian about using them safely."
Certain products should never be used on guinea pigs including mite collars, organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays, or permethrin spot-on treatments, as these may be toxic to your pet.
Should I be concerned about mites affecting my family?
Guinea pig mites do not like living on people, so most people living in a home with a mite-infected guinea pig do not develop infection. However, Trixacarus caviae mites are contagious to people, so if someone in your family is sensitive to mites, he or she may develop a mild and likely temporary dermatitis (skin infection) from coming in contact with an infected guinea pig. Individuals living in a household with a mite-infected guinea pig who develop skin problems should seek the advice of their physicians.