Guinea Pig Hair Loss – How to Treat?
Do guinea pigs shed? Yes, one particularly alarming condition that a pet guinea pig can come down with is hair loss. There are only a few instances wherein hair loss is experienced as a natural occurrence. Even elderly cavies won’t lose hair as a result of their old age. If you notice any bald spots or patches of missing hair on your guinea pig, treat it as something serious and investigate as to how it happened.
The most common reason for hair loss is when a guinea pig is infected with parasites. It may have also gotten an infection from extremely dangerous mange mites or fungus.
Let’s take a look at how to identify the symptoms of a balding guinea pig and the necessary actions to take in order to get your cavy back in tiptop shape.
Health & Cleanliness – Parasites
There are a large variety of parasites that can make a guinea pig’s life hell. Some specifically go after cavies while others live on other animals and in rare cases – even humans.
All types of parasites can cause hair loss in some shape or form. They are especially dangerous because they spread easily and their eggs can stay hidden on carrier objects or even other guinea pigs. Cavies that are aged, young, already suffering from an illness or pregnant are the most vulnerable to an infestation of parasites.
- Mange Mites
Mange mites are the most dangerous. They can’t be seen with the naked eye and they’ll burrow under the skin of your guinea pig causing extreme pain.
A cavy that’s infected with mange mites will scratch, bite, and claw its skin; expending every effort to rid itself of the parasite. It might not even feel like eating due to the discomfort and can die from dehydration or starvation as a result.
Bring your guinea pig to a vet as soon as possible if you suspect an incursion of mange mites. Ivermectin is a drug used specifically to combat mites and will be prescribed by the vet if deemed appropriate.
Lice are another nasty parasite that loves to choose guinea pigs as hosts. They are tiny insects that wear away the skin by causing friction in order to extract fluids. Most typically they’re found around the ears, head, neck, and rump of a guinea pig. Lice infestation levels range from light to heavy.
They’re not as dangerous as the mange mite but can still cause quite a bit of irritation and hair loss due to their constant movement on the skin. Ivermectin is also used to terminate lice and will be prescribed by a vet if your pet is heavily infested.
- Rabbit Ear Mites
Rabbit ear mites are different from mange mites in that they can be seen with the naked eye. They typically attack rabbits but have been known to infect guinea pigs as well.
As their name implies, their choice of a body part to feast upon is the ear. These mites don’t burrow into the skin but latch onto the outer layer inside the ear and simply chew on the flesh with their bell-shaped suckers.
A guinea pig that’s being attacked by ear mites will probably be seen scratching and shaking its head in irritation. Its ear wax may also appear unusually dark.
Rabbit ear mites can be exterminated using Ivermectin, Gentocin drops, or oral Baytril. Your vet will know which of these to use depending on the level of severity so make sure to take your cavy in right away if you see the symptoms or the mites themselves.
Health & Cleanliness – Fungus
A fungal infection presents itself in the form of itchy patches of hair loss. You can easily identify an infection by the crusty, scaly scabs which will cover multiple areas on the back and limbs.
A guinea pig can also fall victim to ringworm or a similar dermatophyte. Infection from ringworm is less likely to occur, but a cavy can act as a carrier for the infection. Your pet may exhibit only a few signs of irritability.
Because ringworm and many other fungal infections are contagious, both the guinea pig and its living area must be disinfected. Cavies with a confirmed case need to be isolated from other animals immediately. There are several steps you can take at home to counter the fungal attack:
- Make sure you’re wearing protective gloves and wash your hands often when handling infected animals.
- Soak and wash all the guinea pig’s accessories and its cage in a fungicide or diluted bleach solution.
- Replace bedding with fresh stock. Fungal spores tend to stick to wood so remove any pieces of wood from the cage.
You can also use an anti-fungal shampoo to give your cavy a warm bath. Make sure to dry it thoroughly afterward and separate the towel. There are also OTC topical creams available for you to treat the affected areas.
Natural Causes of Hair Loss
There are two instances of hair loss that occur naturally which you should be aware of. If you spot the symptoms, there’s no need to rush off to the vet or take precautions. These are normal and natural occurrences in guinea pigs.
All cavies have bald spots behind their ears. These hairless areas are very easy to spot – some being quite large and wrapping slightly around towards the front of the head.
The skin on the bald spot should appear healthy, with no lesions, crusting, scabs, or visible redness. According to vets, this unique feature appears due to genes and can be safely ignored. Not only does the bald patch lack hair, but the area doesn’t have sweat glands either.
Another source of natural hair loss is shedding. All animals shed hair in some quantity or form. It is quite normal for cavies to shed hair, especially long-haired breeds compared to short-haired ones. However, take note that excessive and continuous shedding can also be an early sign of a parasitic or fungal infection. Watch out for any of the symptoms listed above if you suspect that your pet is under attack.
Brush your cavy’s hair daily to keep its coat clean and soft.
Metabolic Causes of Hair Loss
The metabolism of any particular guinea pig has been known to cause hair loss.
Cavies can’t produce Vitamin C in their bodies so a deficiency of such can cause illnesses which have hair loss as a symptom. It can sometimes be difficult to identify Vitamin C deficiency as the source of a guinea pig’s sickness but a few general symptoms are a loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and painful bones (cavy has difficulty walking).
Vitamin C deficiency can be remedied by including more fresh fruits and vitamin-rich vegetables in your cavy’s diet.
Hair loss has been seen to occur in female guinea pigs (called sows) due to hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and lactation. Repeatedly giving birth, especially during the last trimester, can cause a female to lose more and more hair. Researchers believe that nutritional and genetic factors also affect the severity of the condition.
Young guinea pigs (called pups) frequently experience hair loss during the weaning stage, which is when they’re a week old or less and are still suckling their mother for nourishment. This is a natural metabolic occurrence and serves to mark a transitional period from a pup’s soft baby hairs to coarser adult hairs.
Why Is Your Guinea Pig Losing Hair?
The last possible cause of guinea pig hair loss on our list is mechanical – meaning that it could be self-inflicted, brought on by other guinea pigs, or caused by the environment.
Barbering is characterized by behavior that some guinea pigs exhibit which is to chew on the hairs of their cage mates or even themselves. The activity is not linked to any dietary or cleanliness issues as even a well-fed and healthy guinea pig can have the tendency to barber itself and others.
You may catch a glimpse of your cavy attempting to go on a barbering spree or you may notice spots of thinning hair on any of your pets.
There isn’t really any way to stop the behavior, though. The best thing you can do is to separate the offending guinea pig from the herd. Barbering isn’t considered a serious concern.
A balding guinea pig could be the result of the environment around it. You’ll need to carefully observe your cavy’s behaviors and its living area to pinpoint whatever’s causing it to lose hair.
For example, if it lives in a hutch or wooden house, the doors and entryways may not be large enough for it to fit through every time it exits/enters the building. Same thing with tunnels – hair may be rubbed off after frequent contact with abrasive surfaces.
Take some time to study your guinea pig’s environment in order to make sure it will fit comfortably when going through doorways or tunnels. Toys and other objects that have rough surfaces are other possible sources.
Guinea pigs can often get into skirmishes or short sparring sessions. These can usually occur between two males fighting for a female’s attention or two females attempting to sort out territorial disputes. If a cavy gets too aggressive during these interactions, it can result in hair loss for the opposing party.
It’s important to understand that these displays of dominance are considered normal activity for a guinea pig and shouldn’t be interrupted as they need to work things out within the herd. You can interrupt the fighting only if you observe the aggression getting out of hand. If things escalate to clawing, swiping, and eventually drawing blood, it’s probably time to break up the scuffle.