Yes, of course guinea pigs suffer from parasitic skin problems, but they are also very prone to fungal infestation and it is glaringly obvious why they do.
They arrived in this country about two hundred and fifty years ago from South America which has a warm dry climate. England happens to have a very damp, humid and sometimes a cold one in comparison and two hundred and fifty years, in evolutinary terms is no time at all for these animals to adjust to this change. Hence their susceptibility to all forms of fungal attack.
More often than not these animals suffer from parasitic and fungal infestation at the same time and if I am not sure about the diagnosis I always treat for both. There is absolutely no risk to the animal of over medicating by doing this.
I do not waste time and money doing skin scrapings, for like many other owners of these animals we are far more experienced than veterinary surgeons in diagnosing and treating this, probably the most common of all ailments seen in guinea pigs.
Symptoms first. If there is just a thinning of the hair which is sometimes accompanied by some of the hair shafts breaking half way down to the root, then it is likely to parasitic problem in the form of mites. There can sometimes also be goose pimple-like spots on the skin. Sometimes there are lesions in the skin which inexperienced owners can mistake for bite marks but they are caused by the the animal’s scratching(see itching)itself.
There are two other types of parasites which are more visible and they are running and static lice. The former is a kind of black or dark brown, flaky dandruf, the latter are tiny, very light brown wriggerly-worms about a centimetre long which can clearly be seen moving in the hair.
One of the best treatments for this is Neem oil, at a dilution rate of four parts of carrier oil to one part of Neem oil. In Asia this is used as a insecticide against the malaria fly. In case the word insecticide alarms readers let me hasten to add that it is also used to flavour food, hence it’s safety for use upon guinea pigs. To underscore the food flavouring side of things, there is a side effect, your guinea pig will smell like a Chinese takeaway dish when you massage the oil in!.
Massage the oil into the skin and leave on for two days then shampoo off. Leave for five days, repeat oil massage, leave for another two days, then shampoo off. Not only does this effectively kill the parasites, I find that it encourages the hair to grow much more quickly than can be expected in any of the conventional antiparasitic treatments.
The best shampoos to use is either Alphosyl or Selsun, both medicated scalp cleaners and despite any claims made by the veterinary profession that they are not, they are one hundred percent safe to use on guinea pigs!.
If Neem oil is not available, the product Prioderm shampoo, formulated for hair lice in humans, is also perfectly safe to use and very much cheaper than any veterinary product.
Occasionally, very badly infested animals need to be treated with the veterinary product Ivomectin by either skin application or injected subcutaneously.
Guinea pigs suffering fungal skin infestation have different symptoms altogether. The hair has a greasy texture to it, there is a deep layer of gritty scurfing on the surface of the skin and the skin itself has a deep red flush to it. As with the parasitic infestation there can also be lesions caused through scratching. In the more advanced cases this scratching can sometimes lead to fitting and in these cases it may be necessary to treat systemically with the anti fungal drug, griseofulvin. See photographs.
I always use my formula of essential oils to treat this condition which seldom fails to deal with it. The oils are tea tree, lemon grass, patchouli, and lavender at a nine to one ratio with a carrier oil, ie, ten ml of the essential oils to one hundred of carrier oil.
Massage well into the skin and leave for twenty four hours then shampoo off. Wait three days then repeat procedure. After the first shampoo, it is important to tease out as much of the hair as possible. You will find this very easy, for after the twenty four hour saturation the oil not only kills the fungus, it seeps into the roots which have already been damaged by the fungus and loosens them even more.
Sometimes it is necessary to repeat the oil massage ten days later if the gritty scurfing has not completely cleared. I stress gritty scurfing as opposed to the kind of scurfing which usually will be seen after the second shampooing. Careful examination will reveal that it is flaky and this is evidence that the medicine has worked. These flakes are made up of dead skin tissue which will continue to lift off for a week or so as the layers of skin which have been damage slough off. There is a tendency for people to want to shampoo immediately but I always advise them to leave it for at least two weeks by which time all the dead skin will have come through.
Increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that as some of the oil formula is ingested by the action of the animals grooming themselves, they are also treated systemically and I rarely need to resort to the conventional drug Griseofulvin. The does rate when it is necessary is half a 125mg tablet with 0.3 evening primrose oil for three weeks. As this is a P.O.M it will mean a visit to the vet.
The conventional topical treatment is Imaverol dip which is diluted in warm water at fifty parts of water to one part of Imaverol. This is a P license medicine, which is the same classification as aspirins in a chemist but it can only be obtained from a vet. For local patches of fungal infestation extract of Grapefruit seed is excellent. Twenty drops into a full egg cup of warm water and paint on daily for a week.