Lice Infestation in Guinea Pigs

Lice is a tiny parasite that is barely visible to the naked eye. This parasite will infest humans and all kinds of animals, including guinea pigs.

If your guinea pig has lice it will likely show signs of discomfort and scratching. Adult lice will feed on your guinea pig’s blood and too large of an infestation can lead to your furry friend feeling weak or anemic.

You may also hear your vet use the term “pediculosis” when talking about a lice infestation.

The best way to avoid a lice infestation is to keep a daily and weekly care routine for your guinea pig. As you’re grooming your guinea pig you’ll want to look out for any small pests in its fur. This is especially important for long hair guinea pig breeds.

Causes of Lice in Guinea Pigs

Lice is usually caused by direct contact with another guinea pig, person or object that already has a lice infestation.

Your guinea pig can get lice from objects such as bedding, brushes and toys. You should always avoid using other guinea pig’s grooming products and only use your own that you clean routinely.

If you’re not careful handling an infested guinea pig you can transfer lice from one of your pigs to another. You should wear gloves at all times and thoroughly wash your hands and arms before handling another cavy.

If you suspect your guinea pig has lice you should immediately separate it from other pigs and even other humans. You will want to discard all bedding in the cage and thoroughly clean the environment before reintroducing other guinea pigs to it.

Until you are completely certain the lice infestation is gone you should keep the contaminated guinea pig separated from others to avoid spread.

Symptoms of Lice in Guinea Pigs

In the early stages your guinea pig may not show any signs or symptoms of lice. It’s very important that you’re thoroughly checking their fur during your grooming and bathing process. You should be bathing your guinea pig each week and brushing their fur more often, especially for long haired breeds.

As the lice infestation grows you’ll start to see your guinea pig become agitated. They’ll likely either popcorn around the cage or they may show signs of twitching.

Typically the most common sign you’ll see is aggressive itching around the ears, neck and head.

The most common signs of a lice problem are:

  • Aggressive and intense itching
  • Twitching or jolting
  • Restlessness
  • Anorexia due to stress
  • Anemia in severe cases
  • Sores and scabs around ears and neck
  • Hairless spots on the body (alopecia)
  • Dry, flaky, thick skin

What Type of Lice Infests Guinea Pigs?

There are two main types of lice that can infest guinea pigs and other animals. These are bloodsucking lice and chewing (biting) lice.

The scientific names for the lice that commonly infect guinea pigs are Gliricola porcelli (slender guinea pig louse), gyropus ovalis (oval guinea pig louse) and in rare cases tirmenopon hispidium.

Bloodsucking Lice

As the name suggests, the bloodsucking lice will pierce the skin to get to your animal’s blood so that it can eat. These lice require blood to survive. They will have a more “pointier” appearance than biting lice.

These lice may leave sores or scabs on your guinea pig that could get infected if left untreated.

A bloodsucking lice will move around the body more slowly than others and will often be found attached to the skin of your guinea pig.

Chewing (Biting) Lice

As the name suggests, the biting lice will bite and feed off epidermal debris (dead skin), dandruff and the fur of your guinea pig.

These lice have more of a blunted appearance and aren’t as pointy shaped as bloodsucking lice.

How Do You Know If Your Guinea Pig Has Lice?

The easiest way to spot if your guinea pig has lice is to check for bugs during your routine care or grooming process.

If your guinea pig is scratching more than normal it may be a sign they either have dry skin or lice. If you know your guinea pig has come into contact with a contaminated pig or area, you should start checking your guinea pig daily.

Just like with human’s, you’ll see nits attached to hair as well as bugs. If you’re having trouble finding them you can use a magnifying glass.

A common way veterinarians will find lice or nits is to take a piece of tape and press it against the fur of the guinea pig. They’ll then look at the tape under a microscope or magnifying glass to verify it is the parasite.

Treatment for Lice in Guinea Pigs

You should avoid using home remedies to treat the lice in your cavy as it may make things worse and cause other problems. You should use over-the-counter lice products or speak with your vet as they can help prescribe medications such as medicated shampoos and medicated baths.

The most common medicine given to guinea pigs for lice is imidacloprid. This is a synthetic insecticide meant to kill and help remove the lice. You’ll also need to comb through your guinea pig’s hair, much like a human, to comb out all of the bugs.

Before giving your guinea pig imidacloprid you should speak with your vet as they’ll provide the exact dose and may even give you an alternative to use depending on the severity of the infestation.

Not as often prescribed but can be used is Ivermectin. Ivermectin is another drug of choice for lice infestation in guinea pigs. A veterinarian will decide if your guinea pig needs this and whether to administer ivermectin systematically or topically.

Can You Use Human Products to Treat Lice?

You should never use human products on guinea pigs unless they’ve been tested and approved by veterinarians.

Human’s have much stronger skin and immune systems compared to guinea pigs and their products tend to be filled with more ingredients that could harm your guinea pig and poison them.

You should use over-the-counter pet products from your local pet store such as PetCo or PetSmart. If you can’t find anything at your local stores you should speak with your vet to get medicine prescribed.

What’s The Difference Between Lice And Mites?

The biggest difference between lice and mites is their size and how they attack the guinea pig. Lice will stay above the skin and feed off the blood and lay eggs. Mites will burrow into the skin and may not be visible to the naked eye.

The treatment for lice and mites is different and you’ll want to speak with your vet to make sure you get the correct treatment plan. If your guinea pig is aggressively itching and won’t stop you should take it to their vet for a diagnosis.

Can Guinea Pigs Die From Lice?

It is extremely rare for a guinea pig to die specifically from a lice infestation. Your guinea pig will only die from a lice infestation in severe cases and the lice is typically not the main reason but it may lead to other issues that cause death.

In many cases a lice infestation may lead to other issues such as sores, loss of appetite and stress if the infestation goes on for an extended period of time.

Can Guinea Pig Lice Infect Humans?

No, the lice that infests guinea pigs is not considered zoonotic. This means that the lice that infests guinea pigs can not transfer to other types of animals or humans that are not related to the breed or in the scientific family.

Article Sources & Research

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