by Jennifer Johnson
One of the most common and easily curable health issues in guinea pigs is the appearance of skin mites. It is very easily recognized: Your guinea pig will scratch incessantly and begin to lose hair over a small spot at first. This bald spot will grow rapidly over the next few days, often with dry, flaky skin. If left untreated, hair loss can become severe, and the constant scratching can lead to bleeding, scabs, or open sores. You may or may not be able to see the mites crawling around on the bare skin.
Most people immediately take their animal to a vet, but the truth is, skin mites can be cured easily and inexpensively at home. If you live near a feed store or Tractor Supply, it’s best to buy a tube of Ivermectin paste or gel to keep on hand in case you need it. You will probably have to ask for it at the register, as it is usually kept behind the counter. When you get a new guinea pig, you can use this to prevent parasites as well. Ivermectin does come in an injectible form (it is used to deworm larger animals like horses and goats), but the oral treatment will be safer and easier, and won’t require a needle.
The easiest way to administer the gel or paste is to have someone hold your guinea pig while you squirt a pea-sized amount directly into the mouth. Some guinea pigs will eat the gel off the end of a chopstick, but many won’t. Even if you get a little extra in the mouth, it’s okay; it’s extremely difficult to “overdose” on Ivermectin. At worst, your guinea pig will get a bit tired and may sleep a little longer than usual after each treatment.
One tube of Ivermectin costs about five to seven dollars; you will have to give one pea-sized dose every ten days for three doses (four if the mites and skin loss are severe). Although the mites will clear up and hair will start growing back after the second treatment, continue to give a third or fourth treatment to ensure that the mites are gone. One tube will last a long time, so if you have a few other guinea pigs, you may want to treat them as well to prevent the spread of parasites.
Of course, if your pet is experiencing any other health problems (lethargy, loss of appetite, etc.) do make sure you get it to a vet as soon as possible. Mites may be easy to treat at home, but if your guinea pig’s health declines, it’s best that it be seen by a vet.