If your pet cavy itching and scratching it may have a common ectoparasite called lice. The word is intimidating and probably makes you itch just thinking about it, but never fear, the important advice is here. Guinea pig lice can be treated and eliminated safely (and even prevented) if you know what to do.
Does My Guinea Pig Have Lice?
If you suspect your cavy has lice seek medical attention from your exotic pet veterinarian (find one near you) immediately.
Your vet can diagnose your pig with lice and treat it appropriately, possibly using a drug like Ivermectin. Do not attempt to buy over-the-counter medication from a drug store or pet store to treat rodent lice. Human lice treatments are far too strong for a small rodent and can kill your pet. Pet store treatments can be dangerous in their own right, causing seizures or just plain not working. It's better to rid the lice from your pet than the pet from the lice, so play it safe and see your vet.
My Guinea Pig Has Been Treated for Lice, Now What?
After your cavy has received an effective treatment and before returning it to the enclosure, thoroughly clean and wash the cage, dishes, and any toys in the cage with water and some mild dish detergent. Be sure to rinse all the soap off before putting fresh bedding in. Throw out any bedding and food that could have been previously infected, and freeze any remaining materials to kill any insects that may be hiding out in it.
Can I Get Lice From My Guinea Pig?
No, don't worry. Lice are species specific. This means that humans get human lice, mice get mouse lice, guinea pigs get guinea pig lice, and so on. So don't worry about you or your child getting lice from your furry pet with pediculosis (lice infestation). If a louse jumps on you, it won't bite you and it won't survive from living off your scalp.
Simply put, mites are arachnids like spiders and ticks, and lice are insects like ants. There are also two kinds of lice, sucking lice and biting/chewing lice. The sucking lice are more worrisome than the chewing lice because of the possibility of blood-borne disease transmission and anemia (excessive blood loss).
So How Do Prevent My Guinea Pig from Getting Lice, to Begin With?
Guinea pigs that don't regularly visit other guinea pigs live in a very isolated environment, therefore there are typically two ways your guinea pig will get lice - food and bedding. Prepackaged foods and bedding materials, even if they are not natural materials, can harbor lice and be brought into your house from pet stores. The best thing you can do to the bedding and food is to freeze it for 24 hours before putting it into your guinea pig cage or room where the cage is. Freezing the products will kill any lice or mites that were brought in from the store or warehouse and prevent your guinea pig from getting infested.
Guinea pigs that are social and visit other pigs or go to areas that have other pigs such as rescue facilities and shelters, show rings, or even to a friends house are more susceptible to picking up lice.
Check behind your guinea pigs ears regularly to see if you see any small eggs (called nits) or tiny lice crawling around.
By practicing good hygiene between handling guinea pigs, freezing food and bedding, and regularly cleaning the cage you can prevent life infestations in your pet guinea pig.