Mites and Your Small Furry | Companion Care
small furry on branch

Mites And Your Small Furry

Many mites are not parasites, and can actually be really helpful, for example as decomposters.

Did you know there are actually many species of mites? Small and spider-like, with four pairs of legs, mites are actually a group on their own, with the smallest examples being less than 0.1mm long!

More about mites and your small furry

Some mites, can cause more trouble, for example those who live on our pets. Parasitic mites we might more commonly see on our small furries include the below, although this is not comprehensive and other parasites can be diagnosed on your small furry in more unusual cases.

  • Rats: Fur mites, mange, demodex and ear mites
  • Mice: Fur mites
  • Gerbils: Fur mites and demodex
  • Guinea-pigs: Fur mites, mange, demodex and cheyletiella
  • Hamsters: Ear mites and demodex
  • Chinchillas: Cheyletiella

There are many species of fur mite, depending on the type of small furry that is affected. These tiny mites can cause problems for our mice, rats, gerbils and Guinea-pigs.

Although the species of mite can differ, the most common signs are the same across the species and include:

  • Itchiness
  • Hair loss
  • Self-trauma
Mange mites live on the skin of small furries such as Guinea-pigs and rats (rarely) and are highly contagious, either by mites moving when animals are in direct contact, or via sharing contaminated items such as bedding. Once the mange mites have infected a small furry, they burrow into the top layer of the skin – this is incredibly itchy, and small furries often cause themselves damage by rubbing, chewing and licking at their skin. This intense itching can lead to self-trauma, and may cause bacterial infections to develop in the skin. Small furries that are infected for a long time may end up with thickening and darkening of the skin, hair loss and crusts forming. Importantly, pets are more likely to develop visible signs if they are stressed, either due to the environment or by being unwell.

Demodex mites are different from other mange mites, in that in most cases they do not cause signs at all. Demodex mites live within the hair follicles, rather than burrowing. Amazingly, most animals have a small population and never even know they are there! These small number of mites are controlled by your small furry’s immune system, so we usually only see problems when your small pet is stressed, either due to the environment or by being unwell.

The most commonly affected small pets are gerbils and hamsters, although rats and Guinea-pigs are also occasionally diagnosed with demodex. In cases where the demodex population has grown out of control, signs can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Sore skin
  • Crusts on the skin

The main mites that affects the ears of our small furries are all types of Notoedres. Mainly seen on rats or hamsters, these mites actually cause itching in other areas as well as the ears, but the crusts that form on the edges of the ears are often seen and can be a helpful part of the diagnosis.

Other signs that your small furry may have this pesky mite are:

  • Sores on the nose and face, which may looks like warts
  • Scabs, which can form anywhere on the body
An infestation with cheyletiella is known as cheyletiellosis or ‘walking dandruff’, and can affect most types of small furry although it is most commonly described in Guinea-pigs and chinchillas. Cheyletiella mites are also seen on cats, dog and rabbits – although each species of cheyletiella has their own preferred species to infect, cross-infection can occur with any cheyletiella type. Cheyletiella is usually seen as excessive dandruff or scurf on the coat, usually along the back and between the shoulder blades – it is this that gives it its nickname. Thankfully, a case of ‘walking dandruff’ usually isn’t too uncomfortable for your pet, although it can get itchy, and is easily treated.
Mites are found across the UK, and small pets can easily pick up mites from the environment, from other small furries and from other household pets if they are in close contact. Mites can also be transported in bedding, so your pet can still get mites even if they live alone and do not travel.

Signs of a mite infection will alter depending on the mite in question, but there are some signs that might point to mites as a potential problem:

  • Itching
  • Excessive grooming of any area
  • Patches of hair loss
  • Flaky skin
  • Self-trauma
  • Sore spots on the skin

If your small furry is experiencing any of these signs then make an appointment with your local vet.

Book an appointment

Although small pets can get mites, healthy small furries in a clean environment are not at a high risk of getting mites, and infections are usually mild and easily treated. Because of this, it is rare for these pets to require routine treatment against mites. However, there are some simple steps to help protect your small furry from mites:

  1. Monitoring. If you see any changes in your pet's hair coat, skin or behaviour, always get them checked over by a vet who will be able to help control any mite infestation. Especially between spring and autumn, all Guinea-pigs should have a thorough check up at least daily due to the risk of flystrike.
  2. Handling. Regular grooming or stroking, especially of long-haired or densely furred pets, can help identify any changes in your pet's skin early, which will help with effective and rapid treatment.
  3. Considering all pets. As some mites can be transmitted between species, it is important to consider parasite protection for dogs and cats in the household.
  4. Bedding. Get bedding from a reputable supplier. Some people recommend freezing bedding for 24 hours before using it to kill mites, but it is important that bedding used is not frozen or damp.

If you think your small furry might have a mite infection, the best thing to do is to go to your vet. They can do a full physical examination, and check your small furry over from end to end! If there is a risk your small furry may have mites, your vet will prescribe a treatment suitable for your pet, which should eliminate the mites.

If there is any doubt, your vet may recommend skin tests. These will look for the mites themselves, which are often invisible or barely visible to the human eye.

Find a practice

Sadly, although mites may prefer one species over another, some will also infect humans if they are in close enough contact. If you think you may have been exposed to mites, and are concerned, always contact your doctor for advice.