If your pet guinea pig is itching and scratching, it may have a common ectoparasite called lice. Guinea pig lice can be prevented, treated, and eliminated safely if you know what to do.
Does Your Guinea Pig Have Lice?
If you suspect your guinea pig has a lice infestation, also called pediculosis, you should seek medical attention from your exotic pet veterinarian immediately. Your vet can diagnose your guinea pig with lice and treat it safely and appropriately. Do not attempt to buy over-the-counter medication from a drug store or pet store to treat rodent lice. Human lice treatments are far too strong for a small rodent and pet store treatments can be dangerous in their own right, causing seizures or simply not work. It's much safer to have your vet use a medication that is dosed appropriately and documented for use in a guinea pig.
After Treating Your Guinea Pig
After your pet has received effective treatment and before returning it to the cage, thoroughly clean and wash the cage, dishes, and any of its toys with water and some mild dish detergent. Be sure to rinse all the soap off before putting fresh bedding in. Throw out any old bedding and food that could have been previously infected with lice, and freeze any remaining materials to kill any remaining lice that may be hiding out in it.
Can You Get Lice From Your Guinea Pig?
Lice are species-specific so no, you cannot get lice from your pet guinea pig. This means that humans get human lice, mice get mouse lice, guinea pigs get guinea pig lice, and so on. You don't need to worry about you or your child getting lice from your pet guinea pig or any other pet for that matter. If a louse jumps on you, it won't bite you and it cannot survive from living off your scalp.
Difference Between Mites and Lice
Mites are arachnids like spiders and ticks, and lice are insects like ants. There are also two kinds of lice: sucking lice and biting or chewing lice. The sucking lice are more worrisome than the chewing lice because of the possibility of blood-borne disease transmission and excessive blood loss in your guinea pig if they have a heavy infestation. Both mites and lice are very uncomfortable and can even be painful to your guinea pig though so you'll want to prevent them, or get rid of them, as soon as possible.
Preventing Your Guinea Pig From Getting Lice
Guinea pigs that don't regularly visit other guinea pigs live in a very isolated environment, therefore there are typically two ways in which your guinea pig can get lice. Prepackaged food and bedding materials, even if they are not made of natural materials, can harbor lice and be brought into your house from pet stores. The best way to prevent bringing lice into your guinea pig's home is to freeze its food and bedding for 24 hours before putting it into its cage or the room where the cage is. Freezing the products will kill any lice or mites that were brought in from the store or warehouse. If your guinea pig is never exposed to lice, it will never get it.
Guinea pigs that visit other guinea pigs or go to areas that have other guinea pigs such as rescue facilities and shelters, show rings, pet stores, or even to a friend's house are more susceptible to picking up lice. After a visit to somewhere with guinea pigs, check behind your guinea pig's ears to see if you see any small eggs, called nits, or tiny lice crawling around. These areas are absent of fur so it makes it easiest to see any parasites here but lice may be present anywhere on your guinea pig if they have them.
If you handle guinea pigs that are not your own, make sure you wash your hands between handling them and your own guinea pigs. This will help prevent you from bringing lice to your guinea pig.
Regular cage cleanings are another way to help prevent lice infestations or at least cut down on the severity of them. If lice are somehow in the enclosure, regular cleanings will help decrease the chance of the lice finding their way to your guinea pig.
Common Mites of Your Rabbit and Small Animal Part II: Cavy Lice. New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers, 2020
Guinea Pigs. Veterinary Manual, 2020
Guinea Pig Care. Fitzroy Vet Hospital, 2020