Guinea pigs suffering from itchy skin may have species-specific lice, a mite infection called sarcoptic mange or the fungal infection known as ringworm, writes veterinarian Jeff Kahler, who notes that ringworm can be transmitted to people from their guinea pig. A veterinarian can distinguish between the three using microscopic evaluations of skin and hair from the guinea pig as well as a fungal culture. The Miami Herald/McClatchy Newspapers



McClatchy Newspapers


            When Allison told her mom that her guinea pig seemed to be scratching herself a lot, Allison was told to clean out Poppy’s cage. Young Allison put in a fresh bedding of cedar chips mixed with pine shavings. Poppy seemed to scratch less, but the improvement was short-lived. The scratching is now to the point of waking Allison up at night, and when Allison pets Poppy, she can feel scabbing along the cava’s back.

I do not recommend cedar shavings for any rodent or rabbit. It can be very irritating to the respiratory tract in these animals. The list of possible causes for pruritus, or itchiness, in guinea pigs is long, however three causes make up the lion’s share of these cases. While either of these three could be placed at the top of the list, I will start by focusing on sucking and/or chewing lice. In my clinical experience, I see this as the most common cause of pruritus in my guinea pig patients.

Lice are parasites. They can be found in many different species of animals from fish to birds to mammals, including humans. Most often, the type of lice involved with one type of animal is specific to that type of animal. In other words, lice from guinea pigs will not infest a human. In guinea pigs, these unattractive little creatures gain access from one guinea pig to another most commonly through direct contact, though lice can be transmitted through substrate such as bedding materials and also through food, especially bulk food.

Once these lice set up “house” on their hosts, they begin feeding by biting or sucking on the skin surface. As one might imagine, this is quite pruritic and irritating. Poppy’s scenario certainly fits with the possibility of an infection with lice.

Some people can see lice with their naked eye; I can not. I use clear plastic tape, placing it sticky side down in an itchy area of the pig’s skin. I then take the tape and stick it to a microscope slide and look at it under magnification for the presence of lice and/or their eggs.

Treatment for lice in guinea pigs involves using an oral or injectable medication two to four times, with two weeks between each treatment depending on the severity. The two-week interval allows the eggs to hatch and the lice killed before they lay new eggs. I also recommend treating the environment every four days by removing and replacing the substrate and spraying with a spray containing the same ingredient as the medication used to treat the guinea pig. This therapy should rid the guinea pig of lice.

Mange is another cause of pruritus. It is caused by mites. These are specifically sarcoptic mange mites that burrow into the guinea pig’s skin and cause irritation and pruritus. The pruritus can be quite intense, to the point where some patients go into seizures. Diagnosis for mange involves scrapping the skin and putting the scraped contents on a microscope slide and observing the mites and/or their eggs under magnification. These mites can not be seen with the naked eye.

Treatment for mange in guinea pigs is virtually identical to the treatment for lice.

The last of the “big three” possible causes for Poppy’s itchy skin in fungal infection of the skin. This is commonly referred to as ringworm, though it involves no worms. This skin disease is caused by a fungal organism that colonizes the skin and causes an inflammatory response that is intensely pruritic. We diagnose this disease by growing the fungus on a special growth medium specifically designed for this purpose. Treatment usually involves oral and topical therapy, including bathing with specific anti-fungal shampoo. Prognosis for recovery is good. An important point to note here is that guinea pigs can transfer ringworm fungus to people.

Poppy likely has one of these three. A visit to her veterinarian for diagnostic tests will lead to a diagnosis and a cure.

(Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto, Calif. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto CA 95352.)

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30 responses to “Itchy guinea pig likely has 1 of 3 ailments”

  1. Jami says:

    We have 2 guinea pigs. One scratches and has “hot spots” on belly losing hair since April. Othe guinea is fine. Rainbow the one with itching was taken to vet. They ruled out mites with scraping. She was put on oral antibiotic and a cleanser We did that. They seem to be drying up. But now she has new one on top and again losing hair. I would think it could be lice or ringworm but other guidea pig is completely fine. The vet suggested separating them because she thought other guinea was doing this to rainbow. I’m so frustrated because I want her to feel better. Any suggestions?

  2. Corinne decicco says:

    I have two guinea pigs and they both itch a lot mostly on their stomach or nose. I was okay at first, but it happens when I take them outside. I looked to see if they had fleas but they don’t. Now I’m very concerned

    • Emily says:

      That has happened to my guinea pig as well I took him outside one day and now all I ever see him do is itch.

    • Paige says:

      You should take your Guinea Pig out at frequently as possible but, it depends what season you take your piggy out in. Very common case for a Guinea Pig is Bumble Foot. Bumble Foot can spread all around your Piggies body. I’d recommend taking your Guinea to a doctor. Fri Dec 13 (2019)

  3. Jamia says:

    I have one guinea pig and have not had him for very long. Just a little bit ago I noticed that he (the guinea pig) was rubbing himself against the side of his little bed and biting/ scratching himself a lot. Then I noticed that whenever I held him he seemed very uncomfortable and he bit me. He also seems to be eating excess amounts of hay and making lots of chirping noises. What is going on? Am I simply being an over bearing pet owner and worrying too much or is something seriously going wrong?

    • Taryn Martin says:

      I’m sure he is fine, my piggy (daisy) scratches her belly sometimes when the cage needs to be cleaned. If the cage is dirty it may make him feel itchy. like if you haven’t washed your hair in a week, your scalp will itch.

    • snow love says:

      Does he have white dandruffy looking stuff on his skin? Try Selsun blue shampoo, if no improvement try Nizoral. It fixed my guinea pig.

  4. Jenna says:

    Is a mange spray effective?

  5. Rlswt says:

    Got 1 piggy then thought she was lonely. I did not know that in Sweden it is illegal to sell just one guinea pig. Well anyway the pig I bought was abused. She is scared of everything and she seem lonely and depressed. No matter how much time you spent with her she seems lonely. And then I saw that on the Internet. I went right out and got her another female they fought tooth and nail ever every inch of that cage. Within one day we got them another cage and separated them yet butting the cages up against each other so they have friends. This did solve that problem. However they both itch really bad all the time. I’ve noticed a dander on them not eggs not lice not anything like that because I’ve seen them before in other Animals it’s just dry skin. They are in a room with a wood stove because we heat solely by wood. We have a humidifier in there also. The piggies love the woodstove and the warmth however they keep itching and itching. Also we got them in the summer so they were itching without the woodstove being lit. So I definitely have to rule that out. We both have read how to do the tape thing and take a scratch thing and look under the microscope but I can honestly tell you That when we look under the microscope at what we’ve seen it is not lice because they’re not kind of shines and they are definately not wrapped around the hairshaft. This seems to be just purely dry skin. They have no rash they have no bumps yet they itch all the time what is going on. ?? We are both disabled and bought these guinea pigs as friends and company. We just don’t have the money and I have tried every place for any kind of veterinarian that would see them for a little less money but it seems like 200 bucks is a bottom line just to walk through the door. As we are disabled they are our best friends we love them dearly and they get whatever they want i.e. clean cages you name it they got it free roam time etc. whenever we go, we take them (2 carriers and harness) with us. They LOVE going out. They are like little doggies to us. We love them and we’re worried that we may be missing something here. When our dog passed years ago he got a fungus in his webbed feet and I will put bag balm on it it totally healed him. I’m wondering if maybe a little bag balm would be good for them as it is not poisonous . Any suggestions ????

    • Jasper says:

      Hi Rlswt it’s really sweet to hear how much those piggies mean to you and I wish I could help you work out what’s going on but I don’t know enough about piggies yet. Only had our 2 rescues a year. In that time I have learnt quite a lot such as they are happiest when bedded on fleece, need nuggets with mint in, the finest quality hay (dust-extracted) and a palace to live in! We finally caved in and bought them a mansion custom built 5x5ft from Manor Pet Housing which has definitely improved their quality of life in the winter (they live indoors all year round but graze in the summer). Yes, they really are spoilt piggies and yet we’ve had times when we had to rush them to the vet due to cystitis, URI’s and other things, which is just what it’s like when you own furry babies! Anyway my advice would be to find a guinea pig forum and post your question there – Guinea Lynx, Happy Cavvy,, etc. Hope you find out what’s going on and I wish you and your piggies long & happy lives 🙂

    • snow love says:

      Try Nizoral shampoo. But using a little bag balm as well is also ok.

      • vch says:

        What is a bag balm? We also have 2 guineas and can’t afford a vet bill. One of them had lost a lot of his hair on his back from scratching.

        • Stacey says:

          Bring animals to shelters if u …if u can not afford vet not allow animals to suffer because u r selfish, don’t get animals if u know u r unable to bring to vets…period

    • Ok says:

      Ok you know how you had one guinea pig and then you out another one in the cage that was a bad idea because the first guinea pig has dominated the cage first just, and erm like yeah I also have something to ask my guinea pig has fur loss on her leg (front leg) and is very itchy ever since I took her outside very ichy in her head and sides and it’s not the cage because I scoop the poop out every day and clean it like after 2/4 days so I’m not sure if anyone knows pls answer but the is also I have lots of flys and spiders could that do anything because I live in the countryside so yeah and Freddie (my female guinea pig) also we have ruby so Freddie isn’t lonely both girls we got them at the same times so they don’t dominate the cage but ruby is like fine it’s just Freddie well ruby is not as bad but I’m going to trying get so flea spray just try8ng to find s9mone who can weigh them

  6. JES says:

    I have 3 piggy, most recently one of them has started itching really bad. She is blonde with pink eyes so she’s light enough to see any bugs I would think. Where she is scratching she’s losing her hair behind her ears and in the creases of her legs, I also see a few tiny white bumps on her. They say change can bring this on, and there has been some changes. I have started giving them a lot more floor time, mostly all the time now. There floor time consist of a large like fence in the house, I even let them sleep there now. I clean there bedding daily. I also have changed the type of hay I’ve been feeding them. I have a vets appt. this morning so I let you know the results.

  7. Kylee says:

    I am fairly new to owning a guinea pig so this might just first-time owner jitters but my guinea pig, whom I’ve had almost a year now (will be a year on June 12th) has a certain type of sore on almost all of his feet. He also itches quite frequently and his nails are dirty, as in they have what seems to be dirt in them, despite being cut short but not too short. He also seems to lose a lot of hair. I have not seen any other signs of something wrong other than him not wanting to be touched by me but that might be because I don’t bring him out of his cage a lot because of my other animals (four cats and four dogs).

  8. Kavina says:

    Ever since the beginning of spring, my little boy has been constantly scratching himself. I know I need to change the type of bedding. What else should I do?

  9. Kylie says:

    My ginipig is scratching and losing hair around its ear and in the crease of its ear it bleeds what do i do ps its male and a baby about a couple months

  10. Laila says:

    We just bought this pig a week ago my daughter just noticed a rash on its but it looks like ringworm. My question is can I use antifungal cream on it? Do they sell stuff over the counter? Our first pet

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