A guinea pig of any age or gender can catch mites. He/she may or may not exhibit symptoms, depending on the type of mite and the piggy’s sensitivity. Fur mites live and breed on fur, but go onto the skin when they eat. They either penetrate with their mouths and feed on blood plasma, or they sit there and consume dead skin cells. Those that eat the epidermis are usually found on hair follicles.
Mites can cause serious physical and mental problems for guinea pigs. The itchiness and discomfort that they cause stress the guinea pig to a great extent. So much, in fact, that they endanger the piggy’s life. Sadly, the longer a guinea pig has mites, the more it’s prone to further complications. Scratching infested areas can open them and welcome a secondary bacterial infection.
It’s vital to get full treatment for the piggy and to completely disinfect anything and everything around it.
Can guinea pig mites transfer to humans? Guinea pig mites cannot live on humans. Even if they do transfer from pet to a person, they will only cause short-term itchiness. Someone sensitive may develop mild dermatitis (skin infection).
In case a pet owner suspects having a skin problem, it’s important to take the pet to a veterinarian. Treating the animal will also help get rid of any mites on the people around it.
Humans can get mange (a skin condition) from mites. Scabies is a common type of mange in humans, but it usually only affects the skin and is treatable. An infected person should seek immediate medical treatment since scabies is highly contagious and can make the sufferer prone to a secondary infection.
Common Types of Guinea Pig Mites
There are two main types of guinea pig mites: Trixacarus Caviae (mange mite) and Chirodiscoides Caviae.
T. Caviae is thought to be a potential occupational and public health hazard because humans around infested guinea pigs are at higher risk of developing skin problems and infections.
Reasons behind infestations in guinea pigs are usually:
- Infection from other guinea pigs. This is especially relevant when buying a new piggy from a pet store, as many sellers fail to identify a sick guinea pig and therefore don’t quarantine it, enabling the mite to spread among the rest of the herd.
- Unhygienic bedding or cage can harbor mites, especially if an infested guinea pig is or was there. Adult mites can feed of the guinea pig while living in all sorts of fabrics (carpet, bedding) – meaning that every place close to where the piggy lives, plays or runs has to be cleaned and treated for eggs and mites.
People can get mites from direct or indirect physical contact – like sharing clothes and bed linens or through sexual contact (especially relevant for scabies). Mites may also be transmitted from animals or fabrics, and they spread quickly. There are several things that increase one’s risk of mange:
- Having poor hygiene
- Living in crowded conditions
- Spending a lot of time in nursing homes or hospitals
- Spending a lot of time in children’s daycare or schools
- Being a young child
- Having a weak or compromised immune system
Chirodiscoides Caviae doesn’t usually have serious or life-threatening signs.
T. Caviae will cling into the skin of the small animal, causing severe itchiness – which is extremely stressful for the guinea pig. So stressful, that the guinea pig may even have seizures as a result. These convulsions can literally kill the piggy.
An infested area is characterized by hair loss and dermatological problems; either dry and crusty, or thick and oily skin. This mite usually affects the inner thighs, shoulders, and neck.
T. Caviae is a gateway for a secondary skin infection, stressing the guinea pig even more.
Therefore, over time the piggy may start to run around anxiously, lose weight, become lethargic, depressed, and finally, debilitated.
In humans, symptoms of mange are caused by the skin’s sensitivity to the mites’ excretions and can appear up to four weeks after infestation. A single mite lasts about 10-17 days.
Signs of mange are:
- Strong itchiness, especially at night
- So-called “scabies rash” on the skin
- Bumps or blisters on the skin (from female mites’ burrows)
The mites burrow the skin, so they like to infest skin folds, like the finger webbing, hidden areas, softer areas, inner elbows, wrists, and knees. Children can be affected in more areas like the neck, face, palms, and soles. Sometimes, mange looks more like dermatitis, eczema, fungal infections or insect bites, so it’s important to see a doctor when exhibiting any of these symptoms.
There are several ways to diagnose fur mite infestation:
- Examining the piggy’s fur for any visible signs of mites (hair loss, skin problems)
- Taking bits of the skin or fur for microscopic laboratory analysis
- Ear swabs to be examined under a microscope
- Putting the animal to sleep (euthanizing), then placing it in a plastic bag or petri dish. The mites will leave their dead host and can be examined.
On a person, a doctor will either look for mites or take a skin sample for examination. It’s not guaranteed that mites will be found because as little as 10-15 can cause mange. In this case, a diagnosis is made based on physical symptoms.
If a guinea pig is very sick and stressed, it could be hospitalized. There aren’t really any specific treatments for guinea pigs, but products for cats and dogs can be used. Veterinarians believe that off-brand products are safe, but they should only be used with a medical professional’s guidance.
A powder or a spray will be prescribed, depending on the type of mite and the severity of the infestation. The treatment is usually applied to the fur/skin, but there are other effective methods, like spraying it on or placing a pesticide-dipped cotton ball in the cage.
One of the most common treatments is from the Ivermectin-family insecticides. This anti-parasitic agent’s effectiveness varies based on the type of infestation, and newer versions of it seem to be less effective. It is safe to use for humans.
Consult the guinea pig’s veterinarian in order to find the best option for the piggy.
Many mite and egg killing treatments exist for humans with mange, most of them requiring a prescription. Obviously, a person should wash all beds, linens, and clothes in their house with hot water and a dryer, dry cleaning, or simply putting them in a plastic bag for several days. It’s recommended that everyone in close quarters with the infested person gets treated, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Doctors strongly advise against scratching infested areas, as they may open and develop a bacterial infection, in which case the sufferer will have to take antibiotics.
Some ways to calm itchy or painful areas (for humans) are:
- Laying in cool water or using a cool compress
- Applying calamine lotion
- Taking over-the-counter antihistamines in case of an allergic reaction.
When a new guinea pig is brought into a new home or cage, it should be quarantined for two to three weeks so that it doesn’t bring any unnoticed sicknesses. In addition, since guinea pigs get mites from direct contact with infested animals, quarantining the sick one is necessary. Many laboratories choose to quarantine and treat the animal at the same time because a piggy with even one mite could get an entire herd infested.
In humans, mange can heal relatively quickly with appropriate medication. Mange is especially dangerous because symptoms can take a long time to appear, and if left untreated, the condition can cause further complications (infections).
In conclusion, mites are no joke. Although guinea pig mites generally are not a danger to people, the stress of having them can give the guinea pig seizures that could literally kill it. Mites have several symptoms that mostly revolve around skin and fur problems, such as itchiness, rashes, oily or dry skin, thick or crusty skin, and many more. These problems can make a piggy depressed, lethargic, and anxious. In general, it’s important to pay attention to a guinea pig’s behavior, because anything that’s not positive can signal a problem. If this unusual mood continues for a long time, then the owner must take a guinea pig to a veterinarian.
A common type of mite in humans is a mange mite that causes scabies – a condition characterized by itching, rashes, and general skin problems or even infections. If a person does exhibit any of these symptoms, they should also take their pet to the vet, because it’s quite likely that the animal is also infested. Just like in guinea pigs, people need to get the appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid any unwanted complications.