flea-like bugs in the guinea pig cage
May 9, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I haven't been taking very good care of my pet guinea pigs. They are well-fed and get plenty of hay and water, but I have slacked off horribly with upkeep of their cage. Now there are some sort of bugs - tiny dark ones.

I doubt they're fleas, as the piggies are indoors and the amount of them seems to have increased as the cage got messier. Still I can't be sure as they are so small and I can't get a good look before they hop/fly away. (I think I have seen one moving in a curving path through the air which implies a flying thing and not a flea, but I may have been mistaken)

The fear that these things are fleas or some other similar infesting thing is driving me nuts and preventing me from cleaning the cage. I'm afraid to go near the area for more time or interaction needed to make sure they have food and water, as I don't want fleas to get all over me and then the rest of the house. However, if they're just bugs who like wet bedding and piggy waste, the problem should be limited to the cage area and more or less resolved once I clean the place up. Does anyone have experience or advice here?
posted by luftmensch to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the "hop/fly" part brings fleas to mind for me.... sorry....
posted by HuronBob at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2010

If they are fleas, they'll be all over the rest of the house already. They don't stay confined to cages. It's time to get over your revulsion as to what they might be for the sake of your animals. They shouldn't have to live like that.

Speak to a vet and get their recommendation as to what to do. Perhaps take a sample along with you so they can see what the creatures are. Your animals might need further treatment.
posted by Solomon at 2:26 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

as I don't want fleas to get all over me and then the rest of the house.

Would you want to live, sleep and eat in a bed full of fleas? Yeah, your guinea pigs don't either. Also, if they are fleas, they are already in other places in the house and if you don't deal with it now, it's only going to get much, much worse. Fleas are attracted to moist places, which would explain why they're hanging out in the cage (if that's what they are).
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2010

I also wanted to add that not keep the cage clean can be detrimental to your pets' health. Urine turns into ammonia which can cause respiratory problems.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:33 PM on May 9, 2010

I think you're confusing fleas with the Black Death.

They are fleas. Before Advantage and Frontline, everyone who owned a cat or dog had a couple in their house from time to time during the summer. They won't kill you and they're not going to multiply uncontrollably in your house without a host mammal.

Just clean out the cage.
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:36 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They shouldn't have to live like that.
Yeah, your guinea pigs don't either.

I know. I've been negligent, and I need to fix this. I feel terrible for making them live like that. Putting things off and then getting overwhelmed seems to be a running theme in my life, but this time someone else is suffering for it.

Perhaps take a sample along with you so they can see what the creatures are.
Any tips on how to do this?

they're not going to multiply uncontrollably in your house without a host mammal.
Humans wouldn't be sufficient for this?
posted by luftmensch at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2010

Doesn't matter whether they've been outdoors or not, you (and anyone living in the house) have and, fleas will hitch a ride on any moving warm blooded critter that's available. A way to check is to get a really fine toothed comb and, brush your guinea pigs, if you find black flecks put them in some water to see if it changes to reddy brown colour (blood) and, of course, live critters. If they are fleas, then consider that the rest of the house is affected too.

Regardless, you should clean the cage, it'll reduce the population of whatever mystery bug it might be. Which will more than likely make your guinea pigs much happier not having to share a cage with them.

They won't kill you

Flea infestations have been known to kill animals if they're bad enough.
posted by squeak at 2:51 PM on May 9, 2010

Transfer the pigs into a box (wear gloves if your peace of mind requires it).
Put the box into a dry bathtub (it's a nice hard surface in a non-fluffy room, to keep fleas contained if they exist, or pigs if they chew through the box while you clean the cage).
Give the pigs some carrots or orange slices or something, they deserve a treat and it'll keep them busy while you clean.
Put old cage in a big plastic bag.
Take outside.
Dump shavings into bag, tie it up, and discard.
Hose down cage (or slosh with a couple buckets of hot soapy water if you have no hose).
Dry and re-fill cage.
Take it back inside.
Transfer pigs.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:00 PM on May 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

Buck up and clean that cage. This is your responsibility. If you were a parent, would you let your child live in a dirty diaper because you are revolted by feces?

As for the fleas, they won't kill you, but they could kill your guinea pigs. If you are really worried, put on a long sleeve shirt, rubber gloves, a scarf around your hair, and a surgical mask.

Clean the cage and area around it well, and keep it clean. The problem will go away if you take action. You should bathe your pets. They probably need it.
posted by fifilaru at 3:03 PM on May 9, 2010

luftmensch said: "Any tips on how to do this?"

A jam jar or plastic bag and a spoon. Probably best to do this right before you leave for the vets so as to have as fresh a sample as possible.
posted by Solomon at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: I've put the piggies in an old, smaller cage for now (too small to properly house two of them, but good enough as temporary digs) and completely tossed all bedding as well as any wood or cardboard toys. I don't have a hose or a bathtub, but I'll wipe/soak/scrub the plastic and metal things as best I can with buckets and whatnot.

I managed to get one bug stuck to a piece of clear tape to examine it - they definitely have wings. They remind me a bit of gnats, except they were mostly crawling among the bedding as opposed to in the air. Does anyone know what they might be?
posted by luftmensch at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

What do you feed the pigs on? They could be fruit flies of some sort, maybe. Or maybe fungus gnats, but you'd have had to have left the cleaning for a long time for them to appear.
posted by Solomon at 3:21 PM on May 9, 2010

Do your pets have little lumps and bumps all over when you pet them? Fleas.

If not they are feeding on the mess in the cage, either way clean that stuff, It's not that hard.

If it's too much to maintain be warned if you decide to give up, no one wants guinea pigs, it's not like you can drop them off at the local shelter and expect someone to jump at the chance to own one.
posted by Max Power at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: What do you feed the pigs on? - Mostly pellet food and timothy hay. They get occasional snacks of thinks like carrot slices, bits of apple or flowers, but in small amounts and infrequently. Even if they tucked away leftovers somewhere I couldn't find and remove them, I doubt that would be enough to support the bugs. It looks like maybe fruit flies could be living off the wet bedding or waste, or at least deciding to lay eggs there: I just found this post, which sounds a bit like my problem.

I don't plan on dumping the pigs at the shelter. I just wanted to find out the best way to ensure the piggies and house to be as bug-free as possible. The responses taught me that pretty clearly step 1 is "stop freaking out and just clean the cage, if it's fleas they're already all over you anyway." (I haven't noticed the bugs anywhere far from the cage, nor have I seen/heard my piggies scratching themselves very often, so I guess my fears were even more irrational than I suspected.)
posted by luftmensch at 4:05 PM on May 9, 2010

These don't sound like fleas to me. If they were fleas, they would be swarming to your hand any time it came close, and you would be complaining about the itch they caused, also (I think, though my experience is limited) that your guinea pigs would be scratching like crazy if there was a crazy large infestation. Also, fleas aren't that small, as tiny little annoying insects go. It sounds more like a midge or gnat problem. Still not pleasant though, and you need to soak the whole cage, bleach would be a good idea.

If they are fleas: From way back in the pre-Advantage day, (college co-op days) the best way to deal with a horrible infestation is to take an animal, large dog is best, into the room or house, play with him for a while, bath the dog and shower, repeat, usually three times. That gets rid of as many or more than an insect bomb. Also, banana stalks (not the fruit, or the ends of the hands, but the big stalks the hands are attached to on the trees. What Harry Belafonte carried to the boat before daylight come.) are a great flea replant.
posted by Some1 at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to bathe the guinea pigs before transferring them back to their main cage? That should help reduce the possibility that the bugs will return with the guinea pigs.

If you get them wet, be sure you follow best practices in drying them and making sure they don't get too cold.

Definitely take that piece of tape to your vet, and/or scan it (or take a good digital photo) so you can at least try to ID it with Internet help.

Plan to take a shower yourself as soon as your guinea pigs are back in their home, or as soon as the bug quotient has been dealt with. Put your clothing directly into a washing machine with water and soap in it.

It's not that bad. You'll feel wonderful once you're done.
posted by amtho at 4:13 PM on May 9, 2010

Hopping away sounds like fleas, but obviously fleas don't fly. My guess is that you're mostly seeing fruit flies, and maybe a few fleas.

Cleaning up the bedding and cage should take care of both problems.

If you want to try and trap some fleas, do this:

1. Find a shallow dish, like a pie pan, a deep plate, or a baking dish.
2. Half fill it with water, and add a big splash of dishwashing liquid.
3. Position it below a gooseneck lamp, such that the lamp is pointing straight down over the water.
4. Put the whole thing on the floor, as near to the piggies' cage as practical.
5. Leave it on overnight, and check it in the morning.

The fleas will jump for the light (a heat source), fall into the dish of water, and drown. Fleas can swim, but the soap prevents them from doing so.

This won't do anything to kill an existing flea problem, but it can help you ID the presence of fleas.

Obviously there's a huge fire danger if the lamp falls into the dish of water. So make sure that won't happen! Weight it, make sure it's where no one can knock it over, etc.
posted by ErikaB at 4:33 PM on May 9, 2010

I've seen something like this! Once, I had to leave my apartment (unexpectedly) for quite a while, and the Feline Pine litter developed these while I was away. The cat was with me, so the box had been scooped right before I left and then remained undisturbed. Little bouncy bugs were on the litter - I freaked out and sprayed the whole thing down with whatever household cleaner was nearest to hand (409 orange cleaner?). They went away, I dumped that litter in a trashbag and never saw the bugs again.

What sort of bedding do you use? Is it pine-y?
posted by WowLookStars at 4:34 PM on May 9, 2010

Response by poster: What sort of bedding do you use? Is it pine-y? - The current stuff is "white softwood." It's pretty similar to the pine I've used before, not having a pine-y smell but possibly of the same stuff. I like to get the soft low odor/oils/dust wood bedding, as the cellulose fluff is so expensive. Do you think it's necessary to pitch the unused bedding?
posted by luftmensch at 4:54 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: Yea, I've had fungus gnats in the house before, when I slacked off cleaning my bunny cages right at the height of summer. Like WowLookStars describes, they are kind of "bouncy"...very easy to mistake for fleas on the litter surface, but some of them will be flying around too. I think that's almost certainly what's happening here if the things you saw have wings.

A good thorough cleaning and vigilance for a week or so is all that was needed to get rid of them.
posted by cabingirl at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2010

Could be fungus gnats or phorid flies. Clean, clean, clean.
posted by bolognius maximus at 5:07 PM on May 9, 2010

Once you have got the piggies all (squeaky) clean, you might consider changing your cage setup. I found that using a larger cage for my pig meant I had to clean up less frequently, kept the odour down, and it gave her much more room to run around.

I built one according to these instructions, and the 2x4 size was like a football field to her. It was large enough that she would do 3 or four laps around it at top speed at least once a day - I can't help but think they should always have enough room for that.
posted by SNACKeR at 5:14 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They're gnats. I got them a few times when I was a guinea pig owner.

One thing: Are there dark spots studded on the cage bars? Make sure you disinfect the entire cage and wipe the bars down well - if they've laid eggs (the dark spots), you could be in for a treat.
posted by caveat at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2010

Do you have a cubes and coroplast cage? They are very cheap to build, I bought an entire sheet of coroplast for less than $20 (and if I wasn't so fussy about wanting some that wasn't white, it would have been $12). This will get you out of that icky job of cleaning the old cage, you can toss it out instead.

The current stuff is "white softwood." It's pretty similar to the pine I've used before... Do you think it's necessary to pitch the unused bedding?

Yes, you should throw it out, because pine and cedar are unhealthy for guinea pigs. I had been using Carefresh, but I've just switched to a cheaper bedding called Freshworld. I scoop out any wet bedding every day or two, which helps with general odor, plus if I don't have time to do a full scrubdown as often as I should things stay under control.

Some people like to use a layer of timothy hay over the entire floor as bedding, you can buy bales of it from farmers if you want to go that route. Here, I have heard of people buying it for $4 per bale. I've also seen polarfleece cage liners with different types of absorbent textiles layered underneath, but these call for regular washing which might be more than you want to deal with.

If you should find yourself in this situation again, tell yourself that you're afraid not to clean the cage ASAP, before nasty bugs invade the rest of your house. Whatever these bugs are, they did not spontaneously arise in the cage, they've already traipsed through your living space, you are only seeing them because they found this area to be such a lovely place to breed.
posted by yohko at 9:14 PM on May 10, 2010

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