Spotting skin conditions in small pets

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if our small pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, are experiencing health issues. They aren’t quite as communicative as cats and dogs, and if they’re housed outside, they are at greater risk from insects and seasonal changes. 

Skin conditions are a bit easier to monitor however. Their fur might seem a bit less shiny and sleek than normal, or you might notice that they have red or balding patches on their body. There are a number of common skin conditions that you should be aware of, so if you spot that something isn’t quite right with your rabbit or guinea pig’s skin and fur, you can book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Common issues for rabbits

As outdoor pets, there are a range of skin problems that rabbits can experience throughout their lifetime. 

A rabbit’s skin and coat should look clean, sleek and healthy. If you have a long haired rabbit, you should regularly brush its fur with a soft brush to reduce matting – this will also give you the opportunity to look for any issues on their skin that might otherwise be hidden by their coat. 

Parasites such as fleas can be problematic for rabbits, which can catch cat and dog fleas as well as fleas that are stimulated by doe hormones and stick to a rabbit’s ears and face. If they’re scratching around this area, it might be a sign of fleas. Always ask your vet for advice on the best medication to give your rabbit as some cat and dog flea products can be fatal. 

Mites can also find their way into a rabbit’s ears, under their skin and in their fur. Signs of mites include patches on a rabbit’s back or neck, which they might scratch at and cause it to become sore and bleed. Ear mites can also cause a host of issues, causing thick crusts to form in the ear. Taking your rabbit to the vet is the best course of action if you spot any of these signs as mites will need quick and effective treatment to prevent long term issues for your rabbit.

Fur loss, or alopecia, appears in patches in a rabbit’s coat. Conditions that cause patchy or thinning fur in rabbits can cause a number of other symptoms too, such as red skin, dandruff, itchy skin, excessive licking or chewing and bumps or scabs on the skin. Alopecia is often temporary, and your vet will be able to administer treatment to help tackle the underlying cause and promote fur growth.

Depending on your rabbit’s housing, if you notice baldness or red skin, this might be because of hutch burn. This is a condition that is caused by constant exposure to wet and dirty flooring, so it’s important to keep your rabbit’s environment clean, dry and secure from the elements to ensure they’re as comfortable as possible. Sore hocks can also be caused from living on rough or hard surfaces. Be sure to house your rabbit in a hutch with a comfortable floor, and watch out for exposed wires or debris such as stones.

Rabbit sitting in grass by woods

Common issues for guinea pigs

When guinea pigs aren’t running around the house or garden, they’re most likely eating and sleeping in an outdoor hutch. Similarly to rabbits, guinea pigs need a dry, well ventilated and clean environment to ensure their comfort and health – and to keep parasites and disease at bay.

Your guinea pig’s hutch should always have solid, ventilated flooring to prevent sores on their feet from wire bottom cages. Always check for wires that are stuck out or loose stones – those tiny paws need soft and safe surroundings! 

A common issue for guinea pigs is fungus such as ringworm, which can cause patchy hair loss and scaly patches of skin near the head. This can spread across a guinea pig’s back and become dry and itchy. These symptoms are also common for guinea pigs with mites, so if you’ve administered mite treatment and the issues persist, it might be a sign of ringworm. Always consult your vet if you’re unsure of the cause of a skin condition to ensure you’re administering the right medication or treatment.

Fur mites can be passed between guinea pigs and can also be picked up from contaminated bedding, affecting guinea pigs of all ages. While certain mites may cause a mild reaction, sarcoptic mange mites cause severe itchiness and can be fatal. Signs of mange mites include:

  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Hair loss
  • Crusty, yellow skin
  • Bacterial skin infection.

Taking your guinea pig to the vets for regular check ups will help you identify any skin conditions, and will give you the opportunity to get any advice about seasonal issues your guinea pig might face. Changing seasons can cause skin conditions to become more prevalent, such as dandruff. 

It’s important to have skin conditions in guinea pigs checked as soon as you notice them, as many conditions – such as scurvy and ovarian cysts – can present as skin issues.

Our small pets are often our most vulnerable, so taking good care of their skin and being mindful of their environment can go a long way to making sure they have a long and happy life with you and your family!

Three guinea pigs eating in a garden

Phil’s top tips:

  • Check your pet’s bedding daily and ensure it’s regularly replaced – especially during the summer months when flies are more prone to laying eggs in soiled bedding.
  • Guinea pigs are very sensitive to changing weather conditions, so ensure their hutch and run are both weatherproof so they can escape the sun and rain.
  • Groom long haired guinea pigs and rabbits daily to prevent matted coats that can cause discomfort to your pet.