My Guinea Pig Has a Bald Spot

When my sisters recently gave me a guinea pig, Millie, she had a bald spot on her back but no other bald spots. It’s almost in the shape of a heart. There are some short hairs and some flakey yellow skin when you scratch at it. She doesn’t seem to mind it.  I’ve attached some pictures if that helps.  Thank you.

Probably 90% of the young guinea pigs that I see in my practice with these signs test positive for lice, mites, fleas, or ringworm.  It is always important to practice good hygiene when handling a small mammal, however, these parasites are species-specific, and so they typically do not remain on humans or other animals that come in contact with the affected guinea pig.   Less common causes include dermatitis caused by vitamin C deficiency, allergies, over-productive glandular tissue (typically males), and other primary skin disorders.  Examination and some basic testing is recommended to identify and treat the cause.

Identification of the parasite usually requires a test called a skin scraping.  A sample of skin is gently scraped and the collected material is examined under a microscope.  In the case of lice, sometimes it is possible to see the parasites or their eggs with the naked eye or by using a piece of scotch tape to pull some hairs for microscopic examination.  Fleas can be found using a special “flea comb,” which has fine teeth that catch the fleas as you run the comb deeply through the pet’s fur.

If parasites are diagnosed, there are many treatment options including powders, medicated baths and dips, topical pesticides (such as Revolution®), and injectable pesticides.  My preference for mite and lice infestations is Revolution® because it is easy to apply and relatively safe and easy for the patient to tolerate.  Treatments of the cage, frequent bedding changes, and follow-up doses of the pesticide are usually required depending on the parasite in question.  All in-contact guinea pigs must be simultaneously treated to prevent reinfection.  Ringworm and other causes require different therapy.

One last comment.  Guinea pigs are one of the few species that cannot manufacture their own vitamin C from other nutrients, and therefore have an absolute vitamin C requirement in their diet (about 50mg/day).  This can be achieved with high vitamin C  fresh foods (for a list, see my guinea pig care sheet at www.catandexoticcare.com under the references section), or vitamin C supplementation in the way of fortified pellets or tablets.  The vitamin C that is administered in water is not recommended since it rapidly degrades and may even prevent a guinea pig from drinking enough.  Most commercial guinea pig diets have vitamin C built in, but it degrades within 90 days after the food is milled, so it is best not to rely on the pellets alone.

guinea pig bald spot, yellow flaky skin, short hair
Bald Spot, Yellow Flaky Skin, Short Hair

bald spot

 

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the Central Coast, a full-service veterinary hospital, open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m, dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in Pismo Coast Plaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Hedgehog – Good or Bad Pet?

QUESTION:

I’m thinking about getting a small pet for my kids (kids are 6 and 9 years old).  Would a hedgehog be a good or bad idea?  How long do they live?  Are they low maintenance?

ANSWER:

I cannot recommend a pet African Pigmy Hedgehog in the state of California because they are illegal to own here.  My answer would be different if you were considering ownership in a state where they are legal.  I do, however, see this species in my clinic for medical treatment, and consider them to be nice pets if and only if they are well-socialized.  An unsocialized hedgehog is like having a softball sized jumping ball with sharp quills – definitely not fun to hold or to play with!

Hedgehogs are curious, busy little creatures that can be tamed down with consistent, frequent, and gentle handling.  I once adopted a very unsocialized hedgehog from a frustrated owner, and it took several months of daily handling (with gloves) to finally tame her down.  In the end, she became a very friendly pet and I was able to handle her with bare hands because she kept her spines laid down flat.  By nature, hedgehogs are a very defensive animal, and their automatic response to new or stressful stimuli is to ball up, hiss, and jump with their spines standing erect.  That is why it is so important to handle them frequently so that your hedgehog does not consider you to be new or stressful!

In its most basic form the care includes providing clean and fresh absorbent bedding (such as compressed paper pellets), a diet that is predominantly fresh kibbles (high quality kitten or hedgehog specific), fresh water (sipper bottle), good air ventilation, hiding spots, warmth, and opportunities for activity and exercise.  Many hedgehogs can be taught to exercise on a large “hamster” style wheel.   Keep in mind that this species is nocturnal, so you don’t want to keep it in the bedroom of a light sleeper.

I consider the maintenance to be relatively low, but everyone’s tolerance for pet maintenance is different.  Bedding should be spot cleaned daily and changed out twice a week, water and food bowls should be cleaned and refreshed daily, and at least 10 minutes per day of handling is essential.  An annual visit to an exotics vet is strongly recommended to screen for parasites (common) and other health issues, as well as to ensure that the proper home care is in place.  Appropriate care should ensure your hedgehog reaches the full life expectancy of 4-6 years.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Guinea Pig – Dermatitis/Skin Conditions

QUESTION:

My guinea pig has dry flaky skin over his back and he is very itchy.  I was planning to bring him to a vet for this but lately I have noticed that he has seizures.  Do you think I can help him, or is it likely that he will need to be put to sleep?

ANSWER:

Yes, I think you can help him!  Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) in young guinea pigs is a fairly common condition that we see at my clinic.  External parasites (mites, lice and occasionally fleas) are usually the cause, but occasionally ringworm (a fungal infection), nutritional causes (Vitamin C deficiency), barbering by a cage-mate, and even bacterial infection are the culprit.

Many of my clients are surprised to discover signs of external parasites on their singly-housed guinea, long after they adopted it, without any exposure to other pets.  The owners are usually baffled by how the guinea pig acquired these parasites.  In these cases, the parasites have been living in small numbers on the pet for a long time, but the parasites have eventually multiplied, perhaps due to stress or some other factor that has weakened the guinea pig’s normal defenses.

In your guinea pig’s case, I strongly suspect he is suffering from a mite infestation.  Contact with another guinea pig may have occurred to introduce the parasites, or, perhaps they were already present in low numbers and have now become a clinical problem (as described above).  As the infestation worsens, the clinical signs become more dramatic.  The itchiness can be so intense that the guinea pig can have virtual seizures.  Although the signs are troubling, your veterinarian can diagnose the condition quite simply by viewing scrapings of skin under a microscope.  The treatment consists of several doses of a prescription insecticide and sometimes additional medications to treat any secondary infection.  Usually the condition quickly resolves with appropriate therapy.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Appropriate Pet Bedding Tips

QUESTION:

Does the bedding that I use in my pet’s cage really matter?  I have a guinea pig and a bearded dragon.

ANSWER:

The decision of which substrate (ground cover or “bedding”) to use seems very basic, yet the ramifications of making a poor selection can be serious.  The quick answer to your question is: use something that is absorbent, non-aromatic, easy to clean, non-toxic, cost-effective, and hygienic.  My preferences in order from best to worst are: (1) compressed newspaper pellets (for both of your pets); (2) shredded or un-shredded newspaper or paper towels (both pets); (3) “Care-fresh” type bedding (most small mammals); (4) aspen pine shavings (most small mammals); and (5) “astro-turf” type substrates (many reptiles).

Recycled compressed newspaper pellets (such as Yesterday’s News) are always my number one choice because they are among the most absorbent of any of the beddings, they are affordable, they are non-toxic if accidentally consumed, they do not promote fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infestation, they are easy to clean/replace, they are non-aromatic, and they are environmentally friendly.

I need to elaborate on this subject because there are many additional options offered for sale and regularly selected that make bad choices for your pet.  When you consider the limited floor size of the average terrarium, the elimination habits of many small exotic pets, and the frequency with which the entire substrate is completely changed out and cage disinfected, you can easily end up with disaster when a poor substrate choice is made.  Many of the options available provide fuel and enough moisture for bacteria and fungi to grow and a good place for parasite eggs to accumulate and survive.  For example, food by-product particulates (corn cob hulls, crushed walnut shells, alfalfa pellets, hay, etc) and beddings often promote spot cleaning rather than entire substrate change-outs (sands, mulch, soils, etc) due to time and money constraints, which, in turn leads to bacteria and fungi growth.  Another dangerous category of bedding is one that is commonly ingested, often leading to impactions (sands, cat litter, and aquarium gravels and stones).  Aromatics such as cedar, red wood and some pines can damage the respiratory tract and promote airway infections and inflammation.

Ultimately, no matter what bedding is chosen it still needs to be cleaned out in its entirety on a very regular basis.  Remember spot cleaning only removes the visible waste material.  Fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasite eggs are microscopic and can’t be effectively removed with spot cleaning.  One final note- make the substrate span as large an area as possible (in other words, get big cage).  Would you want to live, eat, and drink in close proximity to where you go to the bathroom?

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Rabbit/Guinea Pigs – Bedding and Mites

QUESTION:

I have rabbits and guinea pigs.  What is the best bedding to use in their cages? Can mites be transmitted through the bedding?

ANSWER:

My preference for substrate (bedding) is newspaper pellets such as Yesterday’s News®.  These pelleted beddings are made from recycled newspaper so they are environmentally friendly.  They are the least reactive material to the pet and the most absorbent.  As with any bedding, newspaper pellets still need to be replaced regularly to avoid ammonia build-up from urine waste.  Add a little tissue paper or fluffy bedding for species that like to build a nest or burrow. Add a little tissue paper or fluffy bedding for species that like to build a nest or burrow.

Substrates to avoid include cedar, redwood, and some pines as they are aromatic and irritating to your pet’s airways.  Also avoid corn cob hulls, rabbit pellets, and wood shavings which all pose a higher risk for fugal and bacterial growth.   Straw and other hays are minimally absorbent and tend to be less hygienic, especially of concern when ingested.  Wood shavings, such as aspen pine, are safer but they are also minimally absorbent.

Most mites are species specific, meaning a rabbit mite will only infect rabbits and a guinea pig mite will only infect guinea pigs, etc.  I suppose it is possible for a pet to get mites from bedding if the bedding was previously in contact with a member of the same species.  Otherwise, any free-ranging mites found in beddings are not parasitic, and therefore will not remain on your pet for any prolonged period of time.  Free-ranging mites are much less common in pelleted newspaper products.  If you do suspect free-ranging mites from the substrate, change to a new substrate and see if the problem persists.  If it does, it is best to seek the advice of an exotics veterinarian.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Rabbit – Change in Behavior/Aggression

QUESTION:

My rabbit is acting aggressive towards her cage-mate and I’ve noticed that her urine is very cloudy and occasionally has an orange to reddish color to it.  Is this anything I need to be worried about? 

ANSWER:

Stomping, biting, and fighting between two rabbits does sometimes occur.  Possible solutions to this problem include pairing her with a different mate (she may just not bond with her current mate), housing her alone, and/or getting her (and her mate) spayed if she is not already.  Intact rabbits tend to be more predisposed to fight, urine mark and generally are more aggressive than their spayed counterparts.  Not to mention how quickly they can multiply if they are of opposite sex.  Additionally, spaying is a huge health benefit to adult females who have a very high rate of reproductive-associated disease after the age of five.  The best time to spay is at four months, but it is never too late to gain some of the health and behavior benefits.  Ask your vet or local rabbit organization (www.rabbit.org) for additional bonding ideas to help with inter-rabbit relations.

In a rabbit, cloudy urine can be a normal finding.  It is caused by dietary calcium that is excreted in the urine.  Even orange, pink, or reddish tinged urine may be normal due to certain plant pigments (from food) that are ingested.  In addition to these physiological explanations for the color change, there are also several medical reasons for urine discoloration, much like is seen in dogs and cats.  Causes include bladder infection, bladder stones or sludge, bladder or kidney tumors, reproductive infections, and uterine/ovarian cancer.  It is best to consult with a veterinarian to help determine whether the discoloration is normal or not (an exam and urine analysis are recommended to be safe).  If your rabbit has a normal physical exam, urine test, and is eating the correct food items (grass and grass hay, portion-fed timothy-based pellets, and dark green leafy veggies) you likely have nothing to worry about from a health stand-point

For more rabbit general care information please visit www.catandexoticcare.com and search under the references tab for the downloadable rabbit care sheet.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Annual Exams – Are They Necessary?

QUESTION:

I have two hamsters that seem to be in good health and are about six and a half months old. Should I take them to the vet for check-ups and, if so, how frequently? They tend to fight fairly often and though I examine them to make sure I don’t see any injuries, does this change how often I need to bring them to a vet?

ANSWER:

An annual exam by a qualified veterinarian is always a good idea for several reasons.  Perhaps the most important aspect of a yearly exam is a comprehensive review of your pet hamsters’ care (“husbandry”).  Your vet can give you many recommendations to improve your hamsters’ living environment, which will dramatically improve the overall health of your pets. During a typical office visit, I usually find one or more areas that need improvement to optimize health. For example, is the ground cover (substrate) you are using is a good choice?   The key to a good substrate is keeping the cage clean since ammonia from the urine will lead to disease.  Aromatic litters such as cedar and redwood and those with chlorophyll should be avoided.  My preference is recycled newspaper litters which are more absorbent and less irritating to the pet.  Additionally, hamsters should never be kept in a cage together.  Hamsters are not social animals and, as you have experienced, they will generally fight.

At the annual exam you should also discuss your hamsters’ diet with your vet.  Most people also do not realize that a pelleted diet is typically superior to the seed, nuts and fruit mixes that are sold and touted as “premium.”  A pelleted diet is preferable because all of the necessary nutrition is blended into a pellet that the pet cannot pick through.  You wouldn’t expect a small child to select healthy food out of a bowl of food that had candy mixed in it. Similarly, a pet will typically choose high fat and high sugar items before the healthy choices.  If there is an abundance of food offered, the healthy items may never be consumed.

During a yearly exam, your vet will also ask questions and perform a physical exam which may lead to early discovery of medical concerns that you may not have noticed.  This is very important because often by the time a sick hamster is brought to the vet it has a very advanced illness and the chance of cure is much lower.  However, early detection and treatment can save your pet’s life.

Hamsters generally only live for 2-3 years.  Therefore, each year of life they age roughly 20 human years.  Many vets are now recommending exams at least twice a year for this reason.  A lot can happen in 20 human years!

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.