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?
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.
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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.
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