Barbering in guinea pigs is unfortunately common, and typically happens due to underlying health problems or poor living conditions. Guinea pigs may chew their own fur or that of another piggy, and will typically eat it as well.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about barbering in guinea pigs, how it’s diagnosed, and how to stop it.
What is Barbering in Guinea Pigs?
Barbering in guinea pigs is when they chew on their own fur or that of another guinea pig. This can result in patches of shorter hair or bald spots, also known as alopecia.
The skin beneath barbered fur will usually appear healthy and free of bites. Otherwise, your piggies’ alopecia may have another cause such as infection, ringworm, or fighting between cage mates.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Barber Each Other?
When guinea pigs barber one another, it’s typically the dominant pig munching on the fur of the more submissive guinea pig.
Barbering is commonly seen in domesticated animals living in unsuitable conditions. This includes crowded environments, small cages, having predator species lurking around the cage, improper diet, and more.
If your guinea pigs previously lived in a neglectful situation, they might continue barbering even once they’re in a suitable environment.
Can Guinea Pigs Barber Themselves?
Guinea pigs can barber themselves. Self-barbering is often caused by stress or pain. Although we should typically assume barbering is being done by a cagemate, barbering that avoids areas a guinea pig cannot reach by themselves, such as the back of the neck and head, can sometimes point to self-barbering.
Guinea Lynx notes that guinea pigs may barber due to gas, bloat, or even tumors under the skin in that area. Sometimes, piggies won’t stop barbering themselves once they get into the habit.
If your guinea pig barbers themselves, it’s important to get them into the veterinarian. It could be due to underlying health problems. Sometimes, owners misdiagnose barbering and a piggy is actually losing fur for another reason.
If your veterinarian determines your guinea pig is healthy, they might be stressed. Stress can be caused by lack of a cage mate, too small of a cage, or predator pets like dogs and cats coming too close.
How is Barbering in Guinea Pigs Diagnosed?
The first step if your guinea pigs are barbering, either themselves or one another, is to bring them to the veterinarian.
Your vet will begin diagnosis by getting your guinea pig’s history. They may ask where you adopted your piggy from, what their environment is like at home, and if you’ve noticed any other symptoms or behavioral changes.
Then, they’ll work to rule out underlying illnesses. This includes other causes of alopecia other than barbering, such as parasites or fungal infection. It also includes reasons your guinea pig could be barbering, such as bloat, pain, or tumors under the skin.
They’ll perform a basic exam and any necessary testing before providing a diagnosis. If they determine your piggies are likely barbering, they’ll then recommend treatment options.
How Do You Treat Barbering in Guinea Pigs?
Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the barbering. If there are underlying diseases, your veterinarian will suggest medications or other treatments.
If your guinea pig is barbering due to stress or inadequate conditions, treatment may include any of the following (or a combination):
- Constant access to fresh hay. Fiber deficiency has been shown to cause barbering in rabbits, and guinea pigs might be similar. If your guinea pigs don’t have constant access to large amounts of fresh, clean hay, this should be fixed immediately.
- Enrichment. This includes at least one hide per guinea pig, safe wooden items to chew, toys, a cage mate, and ample space to run and exercise inside of the cage.
- Reevaluation of cage mates. Guinea pigs may self-barber due to bullying by a cage mate. Piggies are also more likely to barber in overcrowded situations, which could mean keeping too many piggies together or even keeping two in a small space. Being alone can also trigger self-barbering, as guinea pigs are social animals and must live with companions.
- Keeping other pets away from the cage. Many humans find it cute when piggies spend time with their dogs, cats, or other pets–but for guinea pigs, it’s usually very stressful. It’s also incredibly dangerous, no matter how docile your other pets are.
- A quiet environment. Loud, chaotic environments can stress guinea pigs out, leading to barbering.
It’s best to provide all that your guinea pig needs before barbering starts, because it can be difficult to stop once it begins. Always do your research and set up a proper space for any new pet before bringing them home.
While barbering is mostly aesthetic when it comes to fur loss, it can cause problems for the piggy doing the barbering as we’ll discuss below.
Avoid punishing your guinea pigs for barbering or applying bitter sprays to the victim. Physical punishments aren’t understood and are abusive. Bitter sprays rarely work, and can stop piggies from grooming themselves.
Is It Dangerous for Guinea Pigs to Eat Fur?
Some guinea pigs do end up with health problems from eating fur while barbering. They can develop intestinal blockages or the fur can get stuck in their teeth or gums.
If your guinea pig is barbering, pay extra attention to their digestion. If they stop eating or pooping, bring them to the vet right away.
You should be checking your guinea pigs’ teeth routinely anyway. For barbering piggies, look extra closely for any fur caught in the teeth or gums. If your guinea pig stops eating or their appetite changes in any way, this could be caused by unseen fur caught in the back of the mouth.
Guinea Pig Barbering vs Mites
Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your guinea pig is being barbered or has mites. Because both require a trip to the vet, I recommend not worrying too much about which your guinea pig has.
But to soothe your nerves if you’re stressing about it before your appointment, here are some differences between the two:
- Mites can cause thick, yellow, crusty skin
- If your guinea pig is itching in the affected areas, it’s likely mites (or another pest or skin issue)
- Weight loss is common in guinea pigs with mites
- If your guinea pig’s fur is short but there aren’t bald patches, it’s more likely barbering
- If you can feel short, prickly fur around a new bald patch or the fur is uneven, it’s more likely barbering
Your veterinarian will examine your guinea pig for mites and may perform testing to either diagnose them or rule them out as a cause of alopecia.
Mites on guinea pigs aren’t visible to the naked eye, so both you and your vet will rely on observing symptoms as well as testing to get the right diagnosis.
The best way to stop barbering in guinea pigs is to prevent it before it starts. This means giving your guinea pigs the best lives possible, and watching newly-bonded guinea pigs closely.
Regular vet appointments can also sometimes help to diagnose health conditions before they cause your guinea pig to self-barber.
However, barbering isn’t always preventable. We can’t always stop our piggies from getting sick, and we can’t control where they come from or how they were treated in the past.
In these cases, providing a low-stress environment, treating underlying health conditions, and making sure they’re well cared for is all you can do. These things might stop the barbering, or it might be habitual and much harder to get rid of.