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Guinea Pigs/Irritation when holding guinea pigs


QUESTION: I have owned my guinea pigs for about 6 months now and have never had an irritation when I hold them. But recently when they touch my arms or neck (hands are not affected) my skin gets irritated and red and I get little bumps. Washing with soap and water gets rid of the irritation, and sometimes lotion is needed too. They have also been scratching more than normal. I have taken them to the vet and they were checked for body and ear mites, but came up clean. Also the inside of my elbows have started to show signs similar to eczema. I wasn't sure if the guinea pigs might have a different kind of bug/skin problem that might be affecting me too. Thanks for your help.

Adams Dip
Adams Dip  
ANSWER: Well first of all let me assure you that guinea pigs have no parasites that will get on humans. The mites they get are what is called species specific, meaning they ONLY get on guinea pigs. Nothing else. The fact that you can wash the affected area and the irritation goes away is a sign that what you have is just a contact dermatitis. That's just a fancy word for 'when you touch something your skin reacts'.  

The elbows are also confirming a contact dermatitis. But this is strictly a contact thing, not a parasite problem. There are a couple of ways to try to avoid this. I would suggest you find some soft gloves to wear when you want to hold them. Inexpensive garden gloves would be just fine. You don't need rubber or latex, as that usually causes you to sweat and really aren't necessary.

The skin on our hands is thicker and tougher than on the neck or around the face. That may be why you don't have the irritation on your hands. However, the longer you are exposed the more likely the chance that you will develop the problem on the hands. It may start on the inside of your wrist where the skin is delicate, that's why the gloves may give you some protection.

If you have a long sleeve cotton shirt that you can use just for holding the pigs that may help prevent the rash as well. As far as the pigs scratching more than usual that could be a sign that they do indeed have mites. It could also be just from the dry air. But either way it will not harm them to treat for mites.  These mites are microscopic, and don't necessary stay in one spot. That's why it's so common for the vet to do a scraping and find nothing there.

You probably should treat them whether you're sure or not, as all pigs will carry mites but unless their immune system is compromised for some reason they do not pose a problem. The fix is inexpensive and easy.  Go to your pet store and purchase a small bottle of Adam's dip. I recommend the dip over the spray because you can truly cover all the coat with just one dip.

The best place to do this is in the bathroom sink. Or if you have a small plastic shoebox type container you can use that as well.  Just mix according to the instructions. The dip actually has a very pleasant fragrance and leaves the coat soft and shiny.

Use lukewarm water. Put about 2 or three inches of water in the container and sit the pig right in the water. Use a small cup to pour over the entire coat, making sure you do not get it in the eyes and ears. You want to have the pig completely saturated.

Now here's the most important part:  DO NOT DRY THEM OFF. Put a towel down in the bathtub and let them drip dry. Don't use a hairdryer, and don't towel dry them. It's important that they drip dry. When they've dripped enough to be just damp you can put them back in their cage.  I treat mine about every three or four months whether they're showing any signs or not. The first indication of mites is a 'V' shaped cut in the hair on the back where the animal has chewed. If they've gotten that bad, then repeat in six weeks.  

I've attached a picture of Adams Dip so you know what you're looking for. Don't buy a cheaper product. I've tried others and they do not work as quickly as effectively as Adams. Please let me know how this works for you, and hopefully you won't have to worry about any more rash or discomfort.

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QUESTION: Do you mean the Adams Plus Pyrethrin Dip for Dogs and Cats? I have read that some people advise not to use dog/cat medicine as the guinea pig grooms itself and that it can be dangerous to its health. They recommend Ivermectin, Advantage, or Revolution, what is your experience or thoughts on these medicines? Also, how soon can I bath the guinea pig after treatment of any of these products? Thank you for your help.

swimming guinea pig
swimming guinea pig  
Yes, you want the Adams for dogs and cats. Ivermectin, although used widely by experienced breeders and exhibitors is good for mites but does not work for lice. I am not suggesting that your pigs have lice. There is nothing to indicate they do. It's just an extra benefit of the product.

Adams is made from an organic product that comes from certain flowers such as the Chrysanthemum. Ivermectin is a boticide that kills worms but is a chemically manufactured type of poison. It has been widely used by cavy breeders for many years, but is what is known as 'experience based', meaning there has been no FDA studies to prove that is works, but experienced breeders have successfully used it and continue to do so.

FDA studies are extremely expensive, require a 10 year research and are typically not done on guinea pigs because they are not a big enough industry or money maker to justify the cost. Rabbits on the other hand do have studies about them.

That is also why there is so little research done on the health and welfare of guinea pigs and why so many vets do not have the ongoing experience to treat them. It's not because they don't want to, it's just a lack of opportunity.

When running a large caviary there is pretty much no such thing as only one pig who has mites. It can be compared to a household of several dogs and assume that only one has fleas. They migrate and quickly infest the entire group. Ivermectin is the first line of defense if there is a bad infestation of mites, and it is less time consuming than dipping each pig, one at a time. When you have 60 animals to do it can take a considerable time.

When buying animals from another breeder most of us treat immediately with Adams spray before bringing the new animal into the caviary. It is a faster means of ridding the pig of mites or lice, which cannot always be seen by the naked eye. It's a safety precaution. And it has an immediate effect. Having said that, we still quarantine a new animal for a week or so just to be safe.

Ivermectin is a longer lasting treatment, but is not as immediate. I've seen novice owners purchase an animal that is of questionable health and whose coat does not look as it should. In that case the Adams spray or dip is safer to use. Those of us with many years of experience treat with Ivermectin prophylactically every three months.

We are also somewhat picky about purchasing animals from breeders we know do not run what we call a 'clean caviary.' If a breeder does not want a visitor to see their caviary, but will bring out one or two animals at a time, that's a red flag that there is a sanitation issue (overcrowding, dirty living conditions, bad odors, etc.) that they may be hiding.

That of course has nothing to do with the immediate question at hand, and I apologize for rambling on. As for using the treatment of choice, I will stick with the recommendation that you use Adams on your pigs. It's a safer product for the pet owner and there is no worries about overdosing.

As for how soon you can bathe your pigs you don't really need to for quite a long time, as they have already been bathed in the dip.  Their coats will be soft, clean and smell nicely fresh. It will benefit both of you as you will enjoy the soft sweet smelling coats that it leaves. Most pigs don't require frequent baths as it can cause dry skin and flaking of the coat.

And just an FYI, if it is a very hot day these little guys do enjoy a brief swim. You can put about four inches of water in your tub (not too cold) and gently set them in it. Most people have no idea that guinea pigs can swim. If you have a small wading pool you can take them outside and let them take a dip. Just stay right there and don't leave them alone.

I hope this helps you out and I didn't overload you with too much information. I'm here for any questions you have so please don't hesitate to ask. Good luck to you and your pigs.  

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Pat VanAllen


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.


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.

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.

Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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