AJ Cavies

Skin

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The skin of a Guinea pig normally provides a resistant barrier against infection. However, there are many factors which lower this resistance and predispose the Guinea pig to the development of skin disease. One of the most common findings is an increased incidence of skin problems in Guinea pigs fed on marginal diets, especially if these diets have low vitamin C content. The feeding of stale dry food will cause such a problem as the vitamin C content deteriorates rapidly 6-9 weeks after milling. Rabbit food is very low in vitamin C and most do not contain it at all, if you do feed your Guinea pig a rabbit food it is very important that you do supplement with daily green foods and carrots and if necessary a vitamin supplement should be given.

SKIN CONDITIONS

Ringworm Clinical Signs: Areas of alopecia, usually accompanied by varying degrees of seborrhoea. The lesions are often found around the face but may spread to the rest of the body. The affected hair can be readily plucked from its follicles. The condition may or may not be pruritic. There may also be accompanying lesions on the owner.

Treatments: Griseofulvin or Tolnaftate 1% & Hexetidine shampoo and a high Vit C content must be fed to help the Guinea pig make a full recovery.

OTHER MYCOSES

Clinical Signs: Guinea Pigs may suffer from a range of other mycotic infections, and the clinical signs may vary from mild skin changes indistinguishable from mange in its early stages, to very severe seborrhoea with accompanying systemic signs including cystitis, pneumonia, convulsions and reproductive disorders.

Treatment: Griseofulvin (as for ringworm) and use an antifungal shampoo e.g. Hexetidine shampoo. It is advisable that the shampoo should be left in contact with the Guinea Pig’s skin for as long as possible (for up to two hours before rinsing).

The effectiveness of the treatment will be increased if all the affected hairs are plucked from the Guinea Pigs body as this will remove a high percentage of the fungal spores. The treatment can be repeated every three to four days as necessary.

MANGE

This condition can also be called “Sellnick” or “Rat Mange”, it refers to the condition produced by Trixacarus Caviae, a sarcoptiform mite.

This is a burrowing mite, and transmission can be via direct or indirect contact. The female burrows into the skin and lays her eggs in the tunnels she creates. Multiple larvae then hatch out of these tunnels; metamorphose through two nymph stages and then develope into adults. The life cycle takes fourteen days. The mite eggs can remain dormant for a period of one to twenty one months, and can exist all this time in the host. Stresses such as malnutrition, overcrowding, poor ventilation, extreme heat and pregnancy predispose to this condition.

Clinical Signs: This usually occurs three to five weeks after infection, although they may remain unnoticeable for considerable periods. The lesions are seen mainly around the head and shoulders and over the dorsum, but may spread further to affect the whole Guinea Pig. The hair comes out and the skin is seborrhoeic and usually intensely pruritic. There may also be many open sores due to self-trauma. If the sow is pregnant and is quite severely affected she may resorb or abort her litter. If her young are born normally they will become infected immediately.

In cases where the pruritus is severe the Guinea Pig may also exhibit nervous signs, and in extreme cases may actually have fits.

Treatment: There are numerous treatments. Probably the most effective is Ivermectin. Please note that this however is not licensed for use in Guinea Pigs so should be used with care.

Other treatments which can be used: Sprays containing Pyrethrum extract (e.g. Johnsons Anti-Pest Insect Spray). Seleen can be used as a shampoo. If this or any other skin condition is accompanied by intense pruritus, this can be controlled by an injection of steroid preparation from you veterinary surgeon. A pregnant sow can be treated with Ivermectin without obvious side effects and is less stressful than bathing her. Your hutch can also be sprayed with an environmental flea spray.

LICE

Clinical Signs: This condition need not be pruritic, and the lice can often be seen in the fur. “Static lice” refers to the eggs of the lice which are seen as black or white specks sticking to the hair, especially around the neck and ears and on the chest front. “Running lice” refers to the adult forms which are visible to the naked eye.

Treatment: As for Mange. Alternatively a human head lice preparation containing malathion can be used. The spirit based preparation can be rubbed into the Guinea Pig’s coat, and left for at least ten minutes before combing with a fine comb. The Guinea Pig should be rinsed in warm water and thoroughly dried.

BROKEN BACK

Clinical Signs: A single area of hair loss in the centre of the back which may become an open sore; if left will scab over. This condition is often mistakenly assumed to be Mange. It seems to be associated with stresses such as showing or pregnancy.

Treatment: Bathe the sore with a diluted saline solution and dry. Dermisol cream or Vetsovate can be applied topically up to three times per day. However, the condition will resolve with bathing only. Once the lesion is healed the affected skin may be fairly dry and this can be conditioned by applying an application of cod liver oil or evening primrose oil.

This condition affects lighter coloured Guinea Pigs most frequently, and it is thought to occur as a result of the Guinea Pig “overheating”. Barley is a particularly “overheating” food as is flaked maize; and these should be removed from the diet. An excess of rabbit pellets has also been implicated as a cause of overheating. The problem is seen at its worst in the heat of the summer.

POST NATAL SORES

This condition is similar to broken back and developes in some sows after giving birth in the centre of the back and can be treated in the same manner. It is thought to be due to mineral and protein deficiency. In late pregnancy sows prone to developing this condition can be given some Bemax as a supplement sprinkled on their food. Alternatively they can be given a bread and goats milk (or lactol) mash to which extra soya flour has been added to provide supplementary protein. A couple of drops of vitapet daily as a source of polyunsaturated fatty acid may also be beneficial. This condition will also respond if one to two drops of abidec (see your vet), a vitamin preparation given orally once daily.

SEBORRHOEA

Seborrhoea and the presence of excess scurf in the coat may be a symptom of many different conditions, notably mange, ringworm and other mycotic infections, and chronic liver disorders. The presence of this scurf is itself intensely pruritic irrespective of the causal agent.

Treatment: As well as treating the underlying cause, the scurf can be removed by using a tar based shampoo e.g tarlite. Shampooing can be repeated at weekly intervals and the improvement will bring great relief to the affected Guinea Pig.

If it is difficult to determine whether the cause is parasitic or fungal in origin it is advisable to use seleen which has both anti-parasitic and anti-fungal properties.

ALOPECIA

During pregnancy

Some sows lose their hair during pregnancy. The symptoms begin in middle to late pregnancy and the hair just begins to fall out. There is no accompanying pruritus. If a sow has experienced this condition once she is likely to do so during subsequent pregnancies, and the condition is also worse in older and frequently bred females.

Treatment: Vitamin B supplementation is recommended, either in the form of a weekly multi-vitamin injection or as daily drops of an oral preparation. However, the condition will resolve slowly after birthing without treatment.

Hormonal

A bilateral symmetrical alopecia may be seen in older sows associated with ovarian cysts. These cysts may reach 2-3cm in diameter and are readily identified during abdominal palpation.

Treatment: Ovarian hysterectomy. Alternatively, the cyst can be drained via percutaneous needle aspiration.

Post-Natal

After birthing some sows may lose most of their coat. The hair is lost bilaterally from the flanks and ventral abdomen. Occasionally the young may actually be responsible for pulling hair from their mothers.

Treatment: None is required. This condition is thought to be hormonal in origin and will correct itself once the sow stops nursing her litter.

LIVER DISEASE

Clinical Signs: The hair cover is sparse and the skin may be thickened. There is often accompanying seborrhoea. Pruritus is not usually a feature unless the seborrhoea is severe. The Guinea Pig may twitch frequently. Severe, untreated mycosis will also present with similar clinical signs.

Treatment: If parasitic and fungal causes are eliminated then this condition is often a sign of underlying liver disease. If the seborrhoea is intense, a tar and sulphur based shampoo is very effective and this can be repeated weekly as necessary. Other treatment is supportive, and should include a vitamin and polyunsaturated fatty acid supplement, e.g. vitapet. However, in severe cases exhibiting nervous signs the prognosis is poor.

SCURVY

One of the signs of the condition is hair loss, usually accompanied by other symptoms of weight loss, lameness, weakness and bleeding from the gums.

Treatment: Vitamin C given orally in drop form until condition resolves.
In any skin condition the provision of adequate vitamin C is of great importance. Plenty of this vitamin can be found in fresh greens, carrots and beetroot. Rosehip syrup is another useful source of this vitamin.

HAIR LOSS AT WEANING

Young Guinea Pigs may get a thin hair at weaning time as they lose their neonatal hair coat and it is gradually by mature hair. No treatment is required other then the provision of an adequate diet and this is a completely natural process.

CHEWING

Clinical Signs: Hair loss in any area of the body, and the hair is often bitten to the roots. It may be self-inflicted in which case only the areas the Guinea Pig can reach are affected, or it may be more wide spread if the chewing is from other Guinea Pigs. Guinea Pigs that share accommodation with rabbits are often chewed by the rabbit.

Treatment: If the condition is self-inflicted it is often a result of boredom and alteration of the Guinea Pigs environment may break the habit. As, by its nature, the Guinea Pig is always eating a supply of ample amounts of good hay will help prevent boredom and stop the development of habit. If the chewing is being done by other Guinea Pigs, the affected Guinea Pig should be housed separately. If the hair loss is found in youngsters as a result of over grooming by their mother, the affected young should be weaned as soon as possible.

In some cases of coat chewing in the long haired breeds (Coronets, Shelties and Peruvians) a vitamin and mineral deficiency has been implicated. These cases have been resolved once the deficiency has been redressed.

URINE SCALDING

Clinical Signs: A moist dermatitis around the genitals ventrally in the female and round the rump in males. It may be a consequence of polyuria.

Treatment: Twice daily applications of a combined antibiotic/steroid preparation such as vetsavate cream is effective (please consult your vet). The affected area can be protected by use of a resistant barrier cream such as zinc and castor oil or Vaseline.

EPIDERMOID CYST (SEBACEOUS CYST)

Clinical Signs: These cysts can arise anywhere on the body, but are usually found on the back. They are slightly soft when squeezed, and if ruptured they discharge their caseous contents.

Treatment: If the cyst ruptures it can be squeezed out and bathed with a mild saline solution. No extra treatment is needed. If the cysts are irritating the Guinea Pig then surgical removal should be considered, although they may reoccur subsequently otherwise they can be left. Cysts are derived from hair follicles, not sebaceous glands.

ABCESSES

These may occur anywhere on the body and are often the result of fighting, sharp flooring, wire doors or even sharp food stuffs e.g. straw. If the lump is found on the neck and is pea sized then it may be due to a swollen lymph node, and this will regress with time.

Clinical signs: A localised soft swelling originating from a cut or scratch, it may be hot and painful to the touch. Abscesses commonly occur in the throat region where they are usually the result of a thistle from the hay penetrating through the mucous membranes of the mouth and tracking under the chin.

Treatment: If the abscess has burst it must be thoroughly bathed with a diluted saline solution and flushed with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. It is then best to use anti-baterials topically only, either a cream e.g. dermasol. If you are not happy dealing with this it may be preferable to have your vet carry out the procedure. The response to treatment will be good.

If the abscess has not burst, it may be brought to a head with warm poultising, by smearing warm magnesium paste onto the surface of the abscess, or by lancing with a scalpel blade.

The affected Guinea Pig must be isolated to prevent other Guinea Pigs licking the abscess and ingesting the infected material.

BOILS

Clinical Signs: These may occur anywhere on the body and appear as subcutaneous fluid-filled swellings. Agoutis seem to be particularly prone to developing this condition.

Treatment: None is necessary. The fluid may reabsorb or burst on its own. The temptation to drain boils should be resisted as there is a likelihood of introducing infection.

GREASE GLAND (SCENT GLAND)

This is a wrinkled piece of skin at the base of the spine which is not normally noticeable as it is covered with hair. It sometimes becomes very thick and glutinous due to grease it secretes. It is much more noticeable in boars than sows, and it can become quite dirty. However, it is perfectly normal and best left alone.

If necessary the thick grease can be removed with surgical spirit or a gel hand cleanser (e.g. swafega).

ANAL FOLD DERMATITIS

Clinical Signs: A moist dermatitis in the circumanal skin folds, caused by a build up secretions of sebum in these folds and subsequent secondary infection.

Treatment: The area should be cleaned with an antibacterial agent and then a topical antibacterial cream such as Panolog or Dermisol. These can be applied two or three times daily until the condition has improved.

BASAL CELL TUMOUR

These benign skin tumours are seen fairly frequently and there may be a familial tendency to their development. It is advisable to remove them to prevent ulceration.

Clinical Signs: A slow growing mass, which is roughly oval, well-circumscribed, firmly attached to the epidermis, but freely mobile over the underlying tissue layers. As the mass increases in size it may ulcerate through the skin discharging some of its caseous contents and at this time it may become secondarily infected. Although they can be found anywhere on the body, they are usually seen in the skin of the dorsum or flanks.

Treatment: This will need to be surgically removed by your vet to result in a complete cure.

FLY STRIKE (BLOWFLY MYIASIS)

Clinical Signs: The presence of larvae (maggots) of blowfly colonising a moist wound or orifice. Maggots may also be found under the adjacent skin.

Treatment: Thorough cleansing of the area and removal of all maggots. The area must be kept clean and dry with an antibacterial cream applied. Flystrike made by Beaphor and obtainable from any good pet supplier will be effective.

This is far less common in Guinea Pigs than in Rabbits and they are less likely to suffer from toxic shock associated with larval secretions.

GLOSSARY

ALOPECIA Loss of hair

BILATERALLY Both sides

CASEOUS White cheese-like mass

EPIDERMIS The outer layer of skin

MYCOSIS A disease caused by fungi

POLYURIA Excessive urination

PRURITUS Intense itching sensation

VENTRAL Chest area

SEBORRHOEA Overproduction of sebum (oil) by the sebaceous glands leading to an itchy red rash often
  accompanied by encrusted patches.

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