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Ginger the guinea pig and his itchy guinea wig

“He is scratching himself to pieces!”

Ginger and Snowy were a pair of much loved guinea pig brothers. They belonged to Mrs Mitcham, a lady who was very attached to them.

She had initially believed that Snowy had been biting Ginger. But with some careful monitoring of the hutch, she had not in fact noticed any sign of a sibling rivalry at all.

When I gently lifted his long silky fur I could see that Ginger had some large scabs along his back. The poor soul was so sore he had started squealing whenever he scratched. I noticed that little Snowy was starting to show some irritation and scabs too. And they both writhed as if in agony whenever I touched them.

I took a sample of their fur, and checked it under the microscope in our Laboratory upstairs. As I suspected, the sample was teeming with little eight-legged mites called Cheyletiella. I took a short video of the mites seemingly waving at the camera at 10,000 magnification, and shared it with Mrs Mitcham, together with the good news that the condition is very easy to treat, and that we humans were not at risk of becoming infected.

I prescribed an appropriate anti-parasitic spot-on treatment and ensured that Mrs Mitcham was confident in how this was to be used, and the lovely pair were rapidly restored to full health in just a few weeks.

This is the time of year when I see a rise in itchy skin problems.

There are so many possible reasons why a pet might get a skin complaint. I enjoy the process of using the appropriate tests, to identify or rule out infections, parasites like Cheyletiella, sensitivities and allergies. These may include fur plucks; skin scrapes, culture and biopsies; blood tests and food trials.

For many years, the best a Vet could offer for chronic non-infectious skin irritations was regular use of steroid tablets, with all their associated side effects. Now my job is much improved, as we have a whole arsenal of better, safer medications available.

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