Guinea pigs are hardy little critters who rarely get sick and are generally easy to care for. Because of this, it's a concern when you see one of yours scratching, rolling around in his cage or showing other signs of distress. The most likely cause of itchy skin for guinea pigs is ringworm, a common fungal infection. Other, more serious causes may be to blame. Only your vet can tell for sure, so take your guinea pig for a full evaluation at the first sign of itching and scratching.
Skin Infections and Allergies
Bacterial infections can cause itching and inflammation, and dry skin or allergies may also trigger itching and scratching. External fungal infections are among the most common causes of guinea pig itching. These infections generally begin on the face and spread to other areas of the body. Guinea pigs with fungal infections may have hair loss and sores on their bodies. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the itching, but prompt veterinary attention can reduce complications.
Itchy skin is often associated with external parasites, such as fleas, mites and lice. These parasites are very small and can cause considerable itching, scratching, hair loss, and other symptoms. Severe mite infestations can trigger pain, dehydration and even seizures in guinea pigs, according to the Guinea Lynx website. Without, death is possible. If you suspect one or more of your guineas has an external parasite infection, consult your vet right away. Prompt treatment with ivermectin or a similar drug can eliminate the infestation and prevent complications.
Preventing Skin Itching
The easiest way to prevent the most common causes of skin itching in your guinea pig is to make certain he receives routine veterinary care, is fed a nutritious diet, and undergoes treatment for fleas, mites and other parasites if he's at risk. If your guinea is prone to sensitive skin or allergies, use only hypoallergenic bedding, make dietary changes gradually and under veterinary supervision, and limit your piggy's contact with grass and other potential environmental irritants.
Sometimes, a microscopic evaluation of skin scrapings and hair is necessary to determine the cause of a guinea pig's itchy skin. Symptoms alone may not generate an accurate diagnosis. For this reason, it is essential that you take your guinea to the vet if he develops any unexplained itching. While the cause may be something simple, such as a reaction to a new bedding material or a response to low environmental humidity, it may also be due to potentially fatal conditions, such as a bacterial infection or mite infestation.
Meerschwein image by Petra KohlstÃ¤dt from Fotolia.com
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."