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Question
Hello,
I am very concerned about my son's guinea pig, Buddy, as he has several issues that suggests he may be very ill. It started several weeks ago with scratching and loosing his fur. He was also eating less and seemed thinner. Buddy visited the vet and they tested him for mites - which came back negative, but because of his symptoms he was given antibiotics anyway. Since then Buddy has finished the medication and does not seem to be improving. He is still scratching and has begun having seizures. During a seizure Buddy flips completely over onto his back while his little body shakes. Recently, I noticed him squeak with discomfort while having a bowel movement. Buddy is still eating his timothy hay, carrots and apples and drinking water w/vitamin "c" drops. But he eats very little and doesn't touch his pellet food. Any information you can provide on what might be ailing would be so appreciated. Thank you!

Answer
Adams Dip
Adams Dip  
I have three friends who are also vets and who specialize in cavies and exotic animals. Each of them also happen to be breeders and exhibitors. I'm simply making reference to them because they know about cavies.

A skin scraping as I suspect your vet did will 99% of the time show up negative. These mites are microscopic and can only be seen under a microscope IF you happen to scrape the exact spot where they are at that moment located. Hence the huge percentage that are not seen by scraping.

I would have to disagree about giving antibiotics when you have no idea what you're treating. Cavies don't always do well with antibiotics and if they're necessary they should also be given probiotics. Penicillin is contraindicated in guinea pigs. It destroys the natural bacteria in the gut and the pig gets a secondary infection caused by the penicillin. So typically the drug of choice is Bactrim or Baytril.

All mammals carry mites. The vet may or may not have told you that. If the immunity system is normal and working they don't become a problem. If untreated they can destroy the immunity system, and the animal suffers and dies.

Scratching and loss of hair is classic of mites. Lice can be seen by the naked eye. They're like tiny grains of rice and if you fluff the hair you can often see them moving. They move very slowly, so you have to really pay attention.

Hair loss is most often first noticed with mites as a V shaped break on the back where the pig has chewed. When they get a bad infestation the hair will begin to thin out and the pig gets balding spots. As breeders we've used Ivermectin 1.87% horse paste, given orally for many many years. It is for worms in horses and there's no mention of treating for mites in this fashion but it's an age old treatment.

Most breeders and exhibitors treat prophylactically every two months. Just a tiny dab the size of a match head is put on the end of a popscicle stick and slid into the mouth.  That's of course for pigs that aren't in the shape yours is. At this point I don't think I'd use Ivermectin on him. It's a boticide and his system may not be able to handle it right now.

I would recommend you go to your pet store and get a small bottle of Adams Dip. Mix according to the instructions. You can use your bathroom sink or a small container like a plastic shoebox. Use warm water. Dip the pig into the solution and soak him thoroughly. Cover his eyes and try to get some on the head, being careful not to get it in the eyes or ears.

Now here's the most important part:  Do Not Dry Him Off. Put him on a towel and let him drip dry.  You can repeat this in ten days. It sounds to me like these mites have gotten systemic and he may be too badly infested to treat now, but at this point you have nothing to lose.  

The very good news is that he's eating and drinking. You might crush his pellets to see if that helps. If you can get some Critical Care and put it in another bottle that will help to keep his nutritional state up. It's like Ensure or Boost is for humans.

I am so sorry that you're little guy has become so ill. I'm not faulting your vet for not knowing what this might be. Very few vets are cavy knowledgable as there is little if any research done on their needs. They've been used as lab animals to help treat humans, but never any research or interest in helping them.  Rabbits are a big industry and most exotic vets are good with rabbits. Guinea pigs are something different. There is no money for research on something that is widely considered as just not that valuable. It's very sad.

I hope this gives you some help and hope. If you continue the antibiotics please get some probiotics to help neutralize the issues of destroying the good and necessary bacteria.

I hope this information has not come too late. He is very ill and the possibility is very real that he may not be treatable at this point, but I'd still give it every chance.  Best of luck to you and your little Buddy.  

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Pat VanAllen

Expertise

As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.

Experience

Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Organizations
Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Education/Credentials
Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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