VET’S DIARY: Ant, Dec and a nasty itch

I HAVE to hold my hands up and admit that I’m not really one for the TV reality shows, writes Dominic Plumley.

The X Factor doesn’t light my fire and unlike some of my friends (whom shall remain nameless) the social calendar does not go on hold at this time of year for fear of missing an episode of Strictly.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been known to have a sneaky peek in the past. I did get quite hooked by one show called Fat Men Can’t Hunt, or something like that, a few years back.

The premise of the programme was that a group of severely obese people were parachuted (metaphorically, rather than literally) into an African hunter-gatherer tribe. It was compelling viewing for the few weeks that it was on.

Another show back on the box at this time of year is I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, hosted by that pair of likely lads, Ant and Dec.

In one of those coincidental quirks of timing, I have just seen a pair of guinea pigs that have been named after the Geordie duo.

Keeping faith with the TV hit, Ant and Dec (the guinea pigs) have developed an itch of tropical proportions, though I can vouch for the fact that they have been nowhere near the Australian jungle or a bush-tucker trial. The cause of their irritation has most likely been introduced via the hay that they both eat and use to make their nests.

The tell-tale scaly skin along their backs and frequent scabs that have been caused by over enthusiastic scratching are nearly always indicative of the presence of mites – commonly the sarcoptid mite Trixacarus caviae.

Skin scrapes can be quite painful to perform, especially if the skin is already broken, but are the best way to confirm the cause of the infection. However, if the infestation is great even applying the sticky side of a strip of selotape will pick up mites that can then be examined under the microscope.

The mites burrow into the skin of the infected guinea pigs causing an intense itch and they will often scratch themselves raw, these self-inflicted wounds themselves often being quite serious.

Having diagnosed the problem, treatment of the mites can present a few problems. Firstly, there are not many medicines that are specifically produced for use with guinea pigs or any of the other small furry pets for that matter. This invariably means going ‘off licence,’ using treatments that are actually for other species, though thankfully, many of these have now been widely used with a significant body of practical experience associated with their safe and successful use.

Another problem is that most of the treatments only kill one stage of the mite lifecycle and so applications have to be repeated weekly for up to four or five weeks to ensure the infection is stopped in its tracks.

Of the two guinea pigs presented to me, one had quite nasty wounds. I think it was Ant, but I’m not sure, I never know which one is which, while the other, possibly Dec, was relatively symptom-free.

This may be indicative of another complication, that some individuals act as carriers without showing overt signs of infection, hence the importance of treating all of the animals in a group and not just the ones that are itching.

Both took their medicine well and we will see them back in a week. In the meantime, their owner will need to change the hay, probably bedding them on paper or shavings to try and break the source of infection.

All going well Ant and Dec will be back to their best in no time, as long as they keep away from Freddie Starr.