Mange mites are parasites that can make your guinea pig's life miserable. These pests can live on the skin of a guinea pig and lie dormant for some time before stress or illness gives them an opportunity to spread and cause problems. If you see the signs of a mite infestation, get your pet to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.
The first sign of a mite infestation is when your guinea pig begins scratching frequently. Occasional itches and skin irritation caused by hay or bedding dust are commonplace, but if your guinea pig has extended scratching fits or seems to be perpetually uncomfortable, it may be due to mites. Unfortunately, mites are invisible to the naked eye, so examining your guinea pig during this stage cannot provide any proof of the problem. Your vet can perform a skin scraping to diagnose the mites, but this is a painful process for the guinea pig, so many will simply order the treatment and watch for improvement. If left untreated, the scratching will become worse, and your guinea pig may begin squeaking in pain when he scratches his sensitive, inflamed skin.
The second stage of a mite infestation is hair loss. The guinea pig will begin losing hair, generally starting on his back and rump. In most cases, the hair thins instead of coming out in clumps, making it difficult to notice the change at first. Eventually, however, your guinea pig will develop large bald spots, making it clear that something is wrong. At this point, your guinea pig may become extremely resistant to handling, to the point where he may try to bite you if you pick him up. The pain caused by any contact with the inflamed skin can be severe, and your guinea pig will have difficulty resting comfortably.
As time goes on, the scratching will inflame the skin even further, and skin cells will begin to flake off like dandruff. Your guinea pig may also develop open sores in the affected areas, and these can become infected. A guinea pig at this level of infestation needs immediate treatment, and may require supplemental antibiotics to avoid a potentially fatal infection.
The earlier you catch a mite infestation, the easier it is to treat. The most common treatment is ivermectin, an injected or topical solution that will kill off any parasites in short order. Once the mites are gone, your guinea pig's hair and skin will return to normal quickly.
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Milton Kazmeyer has worked in the insurance, financial and manufacturing fields and also served as a federal contractor. He began his writing career in 2007 and now works full-time as a writer and transcriptionist. His primary fields of expertise include computers, astronomy, alternative energy sources and the environment.