Ask the Vet

My guinea pig is acting weird – he looks like he is having a seizure! What is happening? Is he epileptic?

Guinea pigs are great pets and I highly recommend them; however, do your research before acquiring one. I also recommend adopting a guinea pig rather than purchasing one from a pet store. Visit the Dane County Humane Society or the Mounds Satellite Adoption center Mounds Madison.

While guinea pigs can suffer from seizure disorders there I have seen a more frequent cause for their seizure like behavior– Mange. Trixacarus cavia is a type of sarcoptic (mange) mite. The mites burrow under the guinea pigs’ skin causing pain and irritation that can lead to scratching and/or biting so violent that it actually appears as seizure like activity. Often, secondary skin infections occur making the little piggy quite miserable and very ill. These mites can’t reproduce and live on humans, but may cause some itchiness for sensitive people. In my experience, once the mite and skin infection have cleared up, so do the seizures! There is a different species of mites that causes similar symptoms but sometimes, fleas or lice may be the culprit.

If you suspect that your guinea pig may have these mites you will need to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will perform a diagnostic test called a skin scraping and may pluck some fur or use a flea comb on your pig to look for any parasites. Skin scrapings are just what they sound like – your veterinarian will use a special blade to scrape off the top layer of your guinea pigs’ skin and then look at this collection of cells under a microscope. If there are mites in that layer of skin, your veterinarian will see them crawling around on the slide and he or she will likely be able to tell what species of mites they are. Sometimes we do not see the adult mites; instead, we see a lot of mite eggs which also leads to a diagnosis of infestation.  If only the eggs are seen, the species of mites may not be determined, but any mite eggs are abnormal and require treatment.

The standard treatment is a medication called Ivermectin that is given as a shot underneath the piggy’s skin. Usually two or three injections are given by your veterinarian 10 – 14 days apart. Another option is a topical medication that is a flea and heartworm medication labeled for puppies and kittens. Again, two or three doses will be used, but these are put on the skin topically rather that given as an injection. There are pros and cons for each of these medications and your veterinarian should be able to explain those to help you make the choice. While this is the treatment for the mites, your guinea pig may also need some treatment for a secondary skin infection that may have developed. A guinea pig knowledgeable veterinarian will be able to choose a safe and effective antibiotic that should help the skin clear up. Cleaning the guinea pig’s cage and fully changing the bedding will also be necessary to make sure that your pet doesn’t get those nasty mites back from their environment. I recommend cleaning the guinea pig’s cage and fully changing the bedding every time piggy receives a mite treatment just to make sure there are no lingering mites!

Dr. Carla Christman
Healthy Pet Veterinary Clinic
1440 E. Washington Ave.
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 294-9494