Are your Pet Rodents Buggy?
All animals have both internal and external parasites that
will infest them if possible. Rodents are no exception. The
most common external parasites (also called ecto-parasites,)
of rodents are lice and mites. Here is some information
about identifying and removing them from your rodent pets.
The first question you might have is what the differences
are between lice and mites. The first and basic difference
is that mites are arachnids, like spiders and ticks. Lice,
on the other hand, are insects. Mites infest the animal's
skin and can cause hair-loss (mange) in rodents just as they
do in dogs. Lice have two groups, bloodsucking and non-
Lice are species-specific, meaning that the types of lice
that may attack your rat are not likely to live on you, your
cat, or even your mouse. Rats and mice, for example, get
lice of the same scientific genus, but they are not the same
species. Lice spread from animal to animal by contact with
the infested animal or its bedding, but if a mouse louse
jumped onto you, it would not bite you, you are the wrong
Mites, on the other hand, are not species-specific, but they
do tend to stick to one species if they can find a host in
that species. Rodents are vulnerable to three types of
mites, burrowing mites that burrow down into the skin
(Chiggers are a good example of burrowing mites that are
happy to use human as a host.), fur mites, and bloodsucking
mites, which are the most troublesome.
The most common mites of mice are fur mites. They don't suck
the animal's blood and an infestation is not always easy to
notice. You may see patches of hair missing or small sores
on the mouse if the infestation is heavy. Unfortunately, rat
mites will also infest mice, and they are much more
dangerous to the mouse.
Rats and many other rodents all may have fur mites, which
show the same symptoms as on mice. They also may have
burrowing mites, especially the type called ear mange mites
which cause red, crusty areas on the animal's exposed skin.
Be sure that no wild rats are able to access your pets or
your pets to access areas where wild rodents have been, that
is a primary way that pet rodents are infested.
Since some types of lice and mites suck the animal's blood,
it is very important to deal with an ecto-parasite in your
captive rodents immediately, as an infestation with mites or
lice can quickly cause anemia. They may also carry diseases
dangerous to rodents, such as the louse-borne rat blood
parasite Ricketsia typhi, which is not only potentially
deadly to rats but can pass to humans through rat fleas.
Bloodsucking mites are closely related to ticks, and feed in
a similar way, sucking the rodent's blood, and then dropping
off to hide in crevices in the cage or bedding. These mites
are very small though they can be seen without a microscope,
and very dangerous. They will infest humans, and they carry
some bad diseases for your pets and possibly you. Never buy
open bags of bedding for your pets, and you might want to
freeze all bedding before using it to be safe.
See our other article, "How to
keep your Pet Rodents Free of
External Parasites" for suggestions about prevention and