ABSTRACT: Skin conditions are among the most common reasons that guinea pigs are seen in general practice Treatments will vary and include the application of topical products, oral medication or bathing. A veterinary nurse is likely to become involved in these treatments, or in advising and demonstrating to owners how to carry out these processes safely and correctly. This article describes the common types of skin problems, with a focus on how the veterinary nurse can engage with and give support and advice to the client. Some products in this article are not licensed for use in guinea pigs, but may be used under the cascade with the owner's consent.

Veterinary nurses are likely to see guinea pigs for nail trimming in their nursing clinics, and a nurse clinic is an ideal opportunity to advise on coat care and to examine the animal for any skin problems that might need referral to the veterinary surgeon.


There are many different breeds of guinea pig, and many crossbreeds. Coat length (and direction!) will vary enormously between breeds. Generally, the smooth¬haired varieties are easier to care for than the long-haired breeds, such as Texels, Alpacas and Shelties (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Sheltie with coat groomed. The coat length of Peruvians can exceed 12 inches!

Long-haired guinea pigs will require regular grooming and, as they often become soiled or matted with bedding around their rump, owners may choose to have the hair trimmed in this area, something that can be done safely using curved scissors (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Long hair easily becomes

Grooming is most effectively done using a comb with wide teeth – the guinea pig will squeak loudly, but these are squeaks of protest, not pain!

‘Normal’ skin conditions

All guinea pigs have a bald area behind , each ear. This is quite normal, yet is often presented as a cause for concern by the owner. All guinea pigs also have a grease gland on their rump. These glands are more prominent in males and produce varying amounts of black grease, which will adhere to the coat.

If there is an excessive build-up of grease, it can be softened by applying a gel hand cleanser – such as Swarfega – to the dry coat to break up the grease. The area should be well shampooed afterwards.

There are many different breeds of guinea pig, and many crossbreeds. Coat length (and direction!) will vary enormously between breeds. Generally, the smooth¬haired varieties are easier to care for than the long-haired breeds, such as Texels, Alpacas and Shelties (Figure 1).

Long-haired guinea pigs will require regular grooming and, as they often become soiled or matted with bedding

Common abnormal skin conditions


The condition seen most frequently is mange, caused by the burrowing mite, Trixacarus caviae. Affected guinea pigs are pruritic and have hair loss, especially around the neck, shoulders and back, associated with self-trauma. Severely affected cases may have epileptiform fits or twitch when touched.

Treatment is with ivermectin. Bathing may also be beneficial, but the guinea pig should not be bathed in the early stages as there is a risk that the stimulation of shampooing or towelling may trigger a fit. For this reason the author recommends that the first bath is given by staff at the clinic rather than by the owner at home.

Lice and fur mites

Lice can be seen with the naked eye moving through the coat; and fur mites (Chirodiscoides caviae) may be seen as tiny black specks, usually only visible around the rump of pale-coloured guinea pigs. Both parasites are usually asymptomatic, so they may be noticed more frequently in a routine nurses consultation, rather than being the reason that they are presented to a veterinary surgeon.

They can be identified easily by microscopy. Just collect a few mites on a tape strip and view under low power (Figure 3). Affected guinea pigs can be shampooed using selenium sulphide 1% (Seleen, Ceva Animal Health).

Figure 3: Chirodiscoides caviae as seen


Ringworm, caused by Tricophyton mentagrophytes, may be seen, especially in young guinea pigs. Affected individuals have crusty lesions and hair loss, usually around the head and face. Tricophyton mentagrophytes does not fluoresce under ultraviolet light, but can be identified by fungal culture.

Ringworm is usually treated by the application of enilconazole (Imaverol, Elanco Animal Health) every three days until the lesions have gone. It is a zoonosis, so it is important to advise the owner to keep handling to a minimum, and to wear disposable gloves. Children should not handle the guinea pig until well after the lesions have resolved.

Other skin conditions

Ovarian cysts

Bilateral hair loss with no pruritus may be seen in older sows and is commonly associated with ovarian cysts. In advanced cases, these cysts can reach six to seven centimetres in diameter. The cysts can be drained, but usually refill quickly. Ovariohysterectomy can be performed. 


Barbering is when a dominant individual chews the coats of other guinea pigs. The offender is the one with the nice coat! This can be caused by boredom, so it is important to give advice on how to enrich the environment by providing plenty of food and hay to eat, and extra tubes and boxes in which to hide. If the offender is bullying the other guinea pigs, it may be necessary to separate them.


Parasitic conditions are treated with ivermectin and bathing. There are spot- on ivermectin products available (Xenex, Genetrix), but these may not be as effective as giving ivermectin orally.

Shampooing is effective for lice and fur mites, and will improve the skin after the mange is treated; but it is not effective if used as the sole treatment for mange.


Owners are often reluctant to bathe their guinea pigs, as they misinterpret their squeaks of protest and think they are hurting their pet. For this reason, more effective shampooing can be carried out by nurses at th
e clinic (Figures 4-7). Shampoos that are commonly used are:

   selenium sulphide 1% (Seleen, Ceva Animal Health) – remember to dilute 1:4 before applying

   chlorhexidine and miconazole (Malaseb, Dechra Veterinary Products)

   1% triclosan (Sporal-D, Medichem).

The latter two are useful if there is excessive grease and scurf in the coat, or if a fungal condition is suspected.

Figure 4: Use a cup to wet the coat with

Figure 5: Apply the shampoo, and work up a good lather with one hand, whilst still supporting the chest with the other hand. Leave the shampoo on for 5-10 minutes. The guinea pig can be returned to a cage on a towel for this

Figure 6: Using a shower attachment or a mixer tap, make sure the water is only hand hot, and rinse well

Figure 7: Dry using a towel and hair-dryer (on low setting)

Topical treatments

If ringworm is diagnosed, then enilconazole (Imaverol, Elanco Animal Health) should be applied to the lesions every third day (Figure 8). Imaverol should be diluted 1:50 before application.

Figure 8: Using a cotton bud dipped in Imaverol carefully paint the lesions, whilst restraining the guinea pig with the other hand, or ask an assistant to hold the guinea pig for you 

Care must be taken to avoid getting Imaverol into the patient’s eyes when treating lesions around the face. Gloves should be worn by the nurse.

Vitamin C

All guinea pigs rely on a daily supply of this vitamin, and a subclinical lack of vitamin C will predispose the guinea pig to any of the previously mentioned skin problems. Clinical vitamin C deficiency manifests as hair loss, weight loss, lameness and bleeding from the gums.

The importance of this vitamin should never be underestimated, so vitamin C supplementation should be recommended for any guinea pig with a skin complaint. Overdose does not occur as any excess is excreted via the kidneys. An eighth of a soluble vitamin C tablet can be added to a standard 200ml drinking bottle, daily. 


Virginia Richardson MA VETMB MRCVS

Virginia Richardson qualified from Cambridge University in 1986. For the last 20 years she has run a small animal practice in Romsey with her husband Ean. Her special interest is the treatment of rabbits and guinea pigs.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648 2012.00189.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 27 pp 256-258






• VOL 27 • July 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal