Keeping Your Guinea Pigs Clean & Healthy

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Cleanliness is an important part of a guinea pig’s health. Making sure their skin and fur are clean is important. A clean habitat prevents a guinea pig from getting sick, too. Here are some helpful tips and tricks for keeping your little piggies clean.


mites

Unfortunately, mites (parasites) and lice are common ailments guinea pigs face. Lice are less dangerous and more common, whereas mites can cause serious health issues and even death. It’s important to keep an eye on your guinea pig’s skin and fur to make sure they haven’t caught one of these nasty bugs.

Some symptoms of mice and lice are the same:

  • frequent scratching
  • flaky or scabbing skin
  • hair loss

If the guinea pig has had mites or lice for an extended period of time without treatment, more severe symptoms may be present:

  • lethargy
  • not eating or drinking
  • severe hair loss

If you notice any of these symptoms on your guinea pig, the best thing to do is take them to a vet as soon as possible. Guinea pigs are sensitive animals, so receiving proper care is necessary.

One day, we noticed hair loss and flakes on Dharma. After further inspection of the skin where the hair was gone, we saw what looked like lice. The small flakes at the root of the hair were the minuscule lice insects. We took her to the vet immediately. The vet gave her an injection of Ivermectin, which treats both lice and mites. After about a week, we noticed the lice was gone and her hair was growing back.

The vet told us that because Dharma was infected, the guinea pigs she lived with were most likely effected as well. Instead of bringing each guinea pig to the vet (requiring a separate appointment for each one), the vet suggested a treatment usually given to livestock; we decided to research it before we administered it. It turns out the treatment the vet suggested was lethal on small animals in most cases when it was used.

We quarantined Dharma in a separate habitat while we decided how to treat the other pigs. A few online guinea pig sources suggest treating the infected guinea pig with flea treatments for small cats, or with topical Ivermectin. The dosage of topical Ivermectin is extremely specific to the guinea pig’s exact weight and can easily kill the guinea pig if a little too much is given. An injectable type of Ivermectin – the kind that the vet administered to Dharma – is also available for purchase, but it is highly recommended that injectable doses should be done by a vet.

We were scared about using Ivermectin on our other guinea pigs. With Bea being so large and Button being very small, we were nervous that the dosages would vary greatly and make it harder for us to treat all of them. Also, if any of the Ivermectin was accidentally ingested by one of the pigs, it would most likely be fatal.

As a last resort before we were going to cave in and try Ivermectin, we found a YouTube video about a product for small animals specifically used to treat parasites and lice. It is made by a company in the UK called Beaphar. It’s called Anti-Parasite Spot On For Small Animals.

beaphar

The product is extremely easy to use and you don’t have to worry about the exact dosage issue Ivermectin presented that could potentially hurt your guinea pig.

Each box comes with 4 small tubes of medicine (an approved veterinary preparation containing ivermectin), meant for 4 doses if needed. Depending on your guinea pig’s size, you would either use one or two tubes in one dose. As long as your guinea pig is above 300mg, the treatment is totally safe (you can easily weigh your guinea pig with a kitchen scale). In the case of our pigs, they all only needed one tube except for Bea, who got 2 tubes because of her size.

It’s very simple to give to your guinea pig. While holding the guinea pig still, you squeeze out medicine from the tube to a place on their body that they can’t reach when they clean themselves. We put a small amount on the middle of their backs (closer to their behinds), and some behind each ear. The dose lasts for 4 weeks and if the symptoms are still present, you can administer another dose after the 4 weeks are up.

The only guinea pig of ours that exhibited any symptoms of lice was Dharma, but we treated the other guinea pigs as a precaution. After we treated them, none of them showed no signs of lice or mites.

To prevent mites or lice:

  • keep the habitat clean
  • keep the guinea pigs clean
  • know the signs and symptoms

bathes

Some guinea pig owners don’t believe in giving their guinea pigs baths.

However, bathing a guinea pig presents no danger to him or her if done every few weeks, and is actually beneficial for their health.

It is important to bathe your guinea pig occasionally. It is not healthy for their skin to be bathed every week. We usually bathe our piggies about once a month.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when bathing your guinea pig:

  • do not let their nose go under water
  • use warm water (not hot or cold)
  • use a gentle shampoo

Two shampoo products we use are Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Kaytee Critter Shampoo. The J&J’s Baby Shampoo (available at any supermarket) is formulated for a baby’s sensitive skin, so it is perfectly safe to use on guinea pigs, and Kaytee’s Critter Shampoo (available at Petco/Petsmart) is made specifically for small animals. We use both interchangeably, but prefer the J&J’s Baby Shampoo because of its pleasant fragrance.

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There are 2 techniques you can use for bathing your guinea pig: 

1. Hold the guinea pig in a sink under a gentle stream of water from the faucet

This technique is our preferred way to bathe our pigs. we recommend that you hold the guinea pig in one hand and shampoo with the other. Or, if you have a helper, one person holds the guinea pig and the other person gently scrubs him or her. If you are the only person who is cleaning your guinea pig, make sure you hold them in a way that supports their sensitive backs. We usually rest the guinea pig on our forearm and hand, as if they were standing in air. When we clean their tummies, we use one arm to support their back and the other hand to scrub their bellies. We try to bathe them quickly as to not make them nervous – the sooner they are standing on all four feet again, the better.

2. Fill up a large sink or bathtub with water and give them a bath while they stand in the water. 

We have found that unless there is a mat or textured surface on the bottom of the sink or bathtub, our pigs slip around and cannot get secure footing. They get nervous when they’re slipping and sliding all over, so place a rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or sink so they can stand.

Many people don’t know it, but guinea pigs are amazing swimmers. They cannot swim underwater because water would get in their nose and mouth and cause dangerous health issues, but if you keep the water at a level that doesn’t go above their neck, it is fun to watch them frolic around. Be careful to only let them swim for a few minutes to make sure their skin does not become too sensitive to being in water for too long.

No matter what technique you use to clean your guinea pigs, there are a few important things to do while you soap them up:

  • be gentle while you wash them; clean them as if you’re giving them a nice massage
  • make sure to clean each paw
  • gently clean their private area (especially male guinea pigs)
  • do not get soap or water in their ears, or near their eyes and nose

To dry them, use a soft towel and gently massage their skin with it, moving your fingers in small circles. You don’t have to dry your guinea pig completely with the towel. Like dogs, guinea pigs love to shake off the water; they curl their front feet up, stand on their hind legs and shake their little bodies!

cleaning cage

We use all natural bedding in their C&C cage. Wood shavings are not safe for guinea pigs, even though they are sold in stores. We buy Carefresh Natural. We like the unscented kind because the scented kinds have extra chemicals in them – not the best for guinea pigs!

bedding

Many guinea pig owners prefer Fleece Flippers over paper-based bedding. We used Fleece Flippers for about 2 months before we decided that they weren’t as cleanly as we thought they would be. After flipping them over when once side got too dirty, we noticed that the odors remained. Even though there is a lining of absorbent material beneath the fleece, we found that the fleece held the smells and dirtiness. If you decide to use Fleece Flippers, make sure to buy extra pads for the insides of them. Also, spot cleaning is imperative!

fleece

An alternative to Fleece Flippers is simply lining your cage with a fleece blanket. Just be prepared to clean it (and replace it) often!

No matter what type of bedding or lining you use, make sure it stays clean. Guinea pigs can get sick from bedding that is too dirty (lice, etc.).

other tips

We received a question about air deodorizers and if Febreez was safe if it got in a guinea pig’s eye.

We choose to not use Febreez or other products like it because the chemicals used to make it are not pet-friendly. Air deodorizers that aren’t pet-friendly aren’t safe if they get on a guinea pig.

When we spray the room, we use Kaytee Instant Shampoo. It has a nice clean smell and if it lands on the pigs, we know it is safe because it is meant to be used as an easy shampoo spray.

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If you have any questions about keeping your guinea pig clean, how to treat an illness, what products we use, or any general questions, please feel free to email us at piggiepen@gmail.com.

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