How to recognize mites on a guinea pig and treatment options.
Have you recently noticed your guinea pig scratching more often? Maybe you noticed a few bald patches that weren’t there before. Your guinea pig may have mites!
Mites are an external parasite that lives by feeding off your guinea pig. They make your pet extremely uncomfortable and itchy because they are constantly biting. While mite infestations can cause major health issues for your pet if left untreated, they are usually easy to get rid of with the right treatment.
This guide will tell you how to recognize and treat mites in guinea pigs.
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The Basics of Mites
Realizing your guinea pig has mites can be scary for a lot of pet owners. But don’t panic! They are one of the most common external parasites of guinea pigs and they are actually pretty easy to treat.
There are actually two common types of mite in guinea pigs.
They are called Trixacarus caviae and Chirodiscoides caviae (commonly known as mange mites).
Regardless of which type of mite your guinea pig has, the symptoms and treatment are the same. But there is some difference in how your guinea pig gets them, and whether they can be transferred to humans.
How do I know if my guinea pig has mites?
The main symptoms of mites in guinea pigs are scratching and hair loss. You may also see your guinea pig biting at their skin or other signs of skin irritation. In severe infestations, your piggy may scratch so much they cause open sores and scrapes on their body. Often guinea pigs will get secondary infections because of this. Your guinea pig may also have some weight loss. As they get more uncomfortable they won’t move around as much to eat and drink normally.
You won’t be able to actually see mites on your guinea pig – they can’t be seen by the naked eye. This is the main difference from having a lice infestation. If you part your piggy’s hair and can see things moving around on their skin, your guinea pig might actually have lice.
You’ll also notice bald patches that rapidly spread across the guinea pig’s body. They are extremely uncomfortable and painful as well. Your guinea pig may lose weight from being so uncomfortable. Mites may cause your guinea pig to be lethargic and not want to eat.
In severe cases, the pain and skin infections can cause seizures and even death.
Mites can be life-threatening if they are left untreated. If you have a guinea pig with mites, you want to get them into the vet.
There are at-home treatments you can do for mites, but in the next section, we’ll talk about why it’s a good idea to get your guinea pig to the vet anyway.
How did my guinea pig get mites?
You might be surprised to know that actually, all guinea pigs have mange mites.
Mange mites are tiny parasites that lay dormant in the skin of the piggy all the time. They usually don’t cause any issues or have any effect on a healthy guinea pig.
Guinea pigs also can get mites if they come in direct contact with another piggy that has an active case. Trixacarus caviae is spread through contact with an infected piggy or contact with contaminated bedding or other items.
A lot of the time, if your guinea pig is showing symptoms of mites there is some other health issue going on. Mange mites become active and start causing problems for your piggy when their immune system is compromised.
You want to take your guinea pig to the vet if they start showing signs of mites because you also want to find and treat the cause of illness. Your vet can do skin scrapings to be sure your piggy actually has mites and make sure the mites are really gone after treatment even if your guinea pig is no longer showing clinical signs.
For example, I’ve had the same guinea pig get mites twice. My piggy, June, is very prone to respiratory infections (not sure why – I’ve never had any other pigs ever get one! Could be her breed). Both times she had an infection she also got mites. We had to treat the mites along with the infection – the mites wouldn’t have gone away without treating the infection since her immune system would have remained compromised.
How to prevent mites in guinea pigs
The best way to keep mites from affecting your guinea pig is by keeping your piggy healthy.
You can’t really prevent your guinea pig from getting mites since they will always have them. But you can prevent your piggy from getting an illness that could also allow mites to take hold.
Make sure you are keeping your cage clean and dry. Feed a healthy diet that is 80-90% hay and provide fresh, healthy veggies daily.
Be aware of any situations where your piggy is coming into close contact with unfamiliar guinea pigs. Don’t share pet supplies or fleece items with other guinea pigs. When bringing home a new guinea pig, make sure to quarantine them away from any other piggies for a week or two. During this time, make sure they seem healthy and reduce stress as much as possible.
Doing regular health checks on your guinea pigs will also help you stay on top of any changes that might be early signs of an illness.
Can I get mites from my guinea pig?
Mites can’t actually be spread to humans as they are species-specific. They must have a guinea pig as a host. However, some types of lice may cause skin irritation in humans.
Be careful if you have other guinea pigs as well. Make sure to quarantine the affected pigs immediately (preferably in a separate room) and deep clean any fleece bedding or houses they used. Wash everything in hot water and throw away anything you can’t clean.
Make sure to wash your hands after handling the infected piggies. I always did all more care and chores for my guinea pigs without mites before doing anything with the guinea pig that did have mites. I even changed clothes after doing anything with the guinea pig with mites just to be on the safe side!
How to treat guinea pig mites
If you think your guinea pig has mites, you need to start treatment as soon as possible. Mites don’t cause too many issues in the early stages. But if they are left untreated, they can cause seizures, anemia, and can even be life-threatening.
To get rid of mites on a guinea pig, you use ivermectin as a topical treatment. You can use any form of ivermectin when it comes to mites. Most vets will do an injection or a topical method. It’s important to follow the right time frame for treating mites, which follows the mite’s life cycle.
Do not give your guinea pig a bath if you think they have mites! There is medicated shampoo advertised for mite treatment, but bathing your piggy will just cause the mites to go deeper into the guinea pig’s skin. This will just cause a more painful condition
The life cycle of mites
To properly treat mites in guinea pigs, you need to understand the life cycle of mites. You can’t do a one-time treatment and expect that to resolve the problem. It takes somewhat of a long time to treat skin mites.
The entire life cycle of guinea pig mites is about 3 weeks. During this time the mite will hatch from an egg, live its life, lay new eggs, and die.
Because mites will lay eggs on your guinea pig, it’s important to treat with ivermectin multiple times. You want to treat your guinea pig at least two times to be sure to kill off the eggs. I prefer to do a small treatment once a week for about a month just to be on the safe side.
Ivermectin for guinea pigs
If you are new to guinea pig ownership or have never used ivermectin before, the best place to get this is from your vet. You probably need to take your guinea pig to the vet anyway to figure out what illness is causing the mites. They can show you how to apply ivermectin to your guinea pig and what dose to use.
If you have used ivermectin before or are a little more experienced with guinea pig ownership, you can buy ivermectin over the counter and treat the mites yourself.
Feed stores sell injectable ivermectin solution for cattle that can be used – but you ARE NOT going to be injecting it. Don’t ever inject anything into your pet without your vet directing you to and showing you how. You want to buy the 1% sterile solution version for cattle and swine.
What you’ll do instead is use an oral syringe (so no needle!) and use that to put a small drop on the skin right behind your guinea pig’s ear. Make sure it soaks in before putting your guinea pig back in their cage so they can’t lick it off.
You’ll need to do this treatment once a week for 3-4 weeks to make sure you kill the eggs as they hatch as well.
And again – make sure you take your guinea pig to the vet to figure out why mites were able to take hold in the first place!
Final thoughts on guinea pig mites
If you realize your guinea pig has mites, don’t panic! Just use the information above to get your guinea pig to the vet and make sure they get proper treatment as soon as you can. Most guinea pigs will make a full and quick recovery.
Let me know your experience of having a guinea pig with mites!