Skin parasites of guinea pigs – look out for these 3

Do you know which parasites to look for when presented with an itchy guinea pig?

Posted: 11 January 2018

Skin parasites of guinea pigs – look out for these 3


1. Mange mite

This is a common skin disease diagnosed in guinea pigs and is caused by the sarcoptes mange mite, Trixacarus caviae. It’s transmitted primarily by direct animal contact and through contact with contaminated materials such as bedding.

Many guinea pigs carry the mite with little or no sign of a problem, whilst other can become severely affected especially when immunosuppressed or stressed. Typical triggers for this can be pregnancy, concurrent illness, ageing, poor diet, inappropriate housing and unsuitable companions.

The typical clinical signs seen include;

  • Pruritus – which is often intense. Infected animals find it difficult to stop scratching
  • Pain – many animals show signs of significant pain and distress
  • Alopecia – this often starts in the middle of the back but can soon become widespread
  • Hyperkeratosis – the skin will become thickened with raised pustules and secondary pyoderma
  • Weight loss and debilitation – this is common and is as a result of the distress caused by the intense pruritis and pain
  • Lethargy and depression – not surprising considering the degree of distress
  • Seizures – some animals may develop convulsive seizures. These are best controlled with diazepam

Treatment is usually achieved using ivermectin preparations that are repeated 2–3 times at 2-week intervals. It’s effective and usually works within a few hours to relieve the pruritus. Injections of ivermectin are often used off-license whilst topical spot-on preparations are available from several companies. We should remind you to always adhere to the cascade.

2. Fur mite

Chirodiscoides caviae is the fur mite of guinea pigs. It’s far less common than the mange mite, but when an animal is heavily infested it can still produce marked hair loss and pruritis. Subclinical cases are usually asymptomatic.

Mites are most often identified over the rump and flanks. To confirm the diagnosis, pluck hairs from the patient and examine under the microscope looking for live active mites or eggs. 

Treatment with ivermectin is effective as with mange mites, using the drug every 2 weeks for 2 or 3 doses.

3. Lice

A lice infestation, also known as pediculosis, is a common parasitic skin condition found in guinea pigs. It’s caused by either Gyropus ovalis or Gliricola porcelli. Most animals are asymptomatic, but if they become stressed, unwell or immunosuppressed, they can soon develop clinical signs.

Lice and their eggs are usually found on the hair shafts around the neck and ears. They can be teased out using a find comb and identified under the microscope. Adhesive tape applied to the site and then placed onto a glass slide will also help to collect and identify the parasite.

Apart from causing hair loss, skin irritation and flaky skin, heavy infestations can also cause anaemia. It’s for all these reasons that it’s important to identify, treat and prevent lice.

Look out for these signs;

  • Intense pruritis – constant scratching and nibbling
  • Anemia – pale skin, mucous membranes and general weakness
  • Dermatitis – the skin becomes inflammed around the neck and ears
  • Restlessness – heavily infested animals generally don’t settle for long periods

As with other cases of ectoparasitic infestations, lice infestations are treated with topical applications of parasiticides such as ivermectin.

Management of skin parasites

Ensure that the owner takes practical steps to clean and disinfect the animal’s home and bedding. This is particularly important if they are introducing new animals into the group. Replace all bedding with new to avoid reinfestation.

Nutritional management

As with all fibrevores, it’s essential to feed guinea pigs well and appropriately with good quality diets to ensure they are fit, healthy and maintain a functional immune system. The fibre rich diets we provide will ensure your patients are in tip top condition.


Buy 3 Get 1 Free Offer (the cheapest product is free)

For a limited period we are offering UK vets some big savings on our Guinea Pig diets.

Take advantage of this offer by contacting our Vet Support team and place an order today. All you have to do is email us at


Find out more about our Guinea pig diets >