Chewing of Hair in Guinea Pigs

PetMD Editorial
July 21, 2010
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Hair Loss Due to Barbering in Guinea Pigs

There are many reasons for hair loss to occur in guinea pigs. One of the common causes for hair loss is due to barbering, a behavior by which guinea pigs will chew or tear their own or each other's hair off as a result of conflicts between adult males or between adults and young. It may also be exhibited by females that are under stress.

The outward symptoms that are characteristic of this behavior are very short, chewed off hairs over an area that appears as a bald patch. The skin that has suffered the barbering may be inflamed, bruised, or may carry other signs of injury.

Symptoms and Types

  • Bite marks
  • Hair loss, often in patches and in a characteristic manner
  • Skin inflammation beneath the fur

Causes

Barbering often occurs in relation to conflicts between adult males or between adults and juveniles.

Diagnosis

Hair loss due to barbering is typically identifiable by the appearance of bite marks and skin inflammation along with the hair loss. However, because there are many possible causes for this condition, a differential diagnosis may be the best method for diagnosis. This process is guided by deeper inspection of the apparent outward symptoms, ruling out each of the more common causes until the correct disorder is settled upon and can be treated appropriately. You will need to provide your veterinarian with your guinea pig's dietary history and a description of the onset of symptoms so that your veterinarian can identify the underlying cause of the hair loss.

Besides self-barbering or barbering by other guinea pigs in the group, hair loss can also be caused by genetic problems, problems in metabolism, or due to dietary deficiencies. The hair loss may even be a natural progression of aging. Young guinea pigs that are weaning from their mothers will have a normal hair thinning as their coat changes from light infant fur to coarser adult fur. It is not necessary to treat this, but your veterinarian will want to make sure that the young are receiving sufficient amounts of protein in their diets.

Treatment

Hair loss is treated in different ways, depending on the cause. When it is due to underlying metabolic illness, for example, it can be treated with medication or changes in lifestyle. When it is due to a deficient diet, your veterinarian might prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements and also formulate a special diet to better suit your pet guinea pig. Hair loss due to genetic reasons cannot be controlled. Hair loss due to barbering can be reduced by appropriate management strategies between the guinea pigs that are sharing the same living environment so that conflict and hierarchal behavior is reduced.

Living and Management

If your pet guinea pig is suffering from barbering, you will need to separate the fighting animals. Keep the submissive guinea pig separate from the dominant ones. You can also provide submissive guinea pigs with hiding holes, typically in the form of plastic tubes, to keep them safe from dominating guinea pigs. For self-barbering, removing reasons for stress will help minimize the behavior.

Otherwise, feed your pet guinea pig the diet that has been formulated by your veterinarian and administer the dietary supplements that have been recommended by the doctor. Also, to avoid possible infections of the skin, make sure that you regularly dress any open wounds to prevent secondary bacterial infections from arising.

Prevention

Feeding your pet guinea pig a nutritious and well-balanced diet can prevent hair loss due to dietary deficiencies. For true barbering, separating the affected animals, minimizing stress, weaning baby guinea pigs from their mothers early, and feeding guinea pigs long-stemmed hay may prevent barbering behaviors.