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Barbering ( Eating Hair)

Discussion in 'Behaviour and Bonding' started by Wiebke, Nov 23, 2015.

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  1. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    We are still guessing as to what prompts guinea pigs to eat their own or their companions’ hair. What is however obvious is that barbering is a much more complex issue than you tend to find in the rather scarce good quality online sources. The causes for barbering can vary widely in my own experience. In this little guide, I am going to show up some of the contexts in which barbering can happen, using my own guinea pigs as examples.

    What is barbering?
    Under barbering we understand the eating of hairs, either from other guinea pigs or their own. Barbering can also extend to human hair. It is not a rare behaviour, but it is generally more frequent and noticeable in long-haired guinea pigs.
    This short video here shows Ffraid barbering Hafren and the typical reaction from a protesting companion:

    - Is barbering harmful?
    Guinea pigs don’t develop hair balls in their intestines, so it is not a dangerous habit.

    - Will the hair grow back?
    Yes, barbered hairs grow back immediately and quickly to normal short-hair length within around a month. Long-haired guinea pigs take obviously somewhat longer.

    - What can I do to prevent barbering?
    Unless you need to separate in severe cases where the hair is eaten right down to leave wide swathes of bare skin, there is not a lot you can and should do. I do not recommend spraying guinea pigs with whatever substances you find touted around on social media, many of which contain unsuitable components.
    The companions will usually tolerate it, complain, move away or swipe at the barberer depending on whether and how unpleasant the barbering is and in which context it happens.

    However, not all barbering is simply random or just naughty behaviour, so it is vital that you always look at the situation and context in which a guinea pig is barbering. In the next posts I am going to show you a variety of cases.
     
  2. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Barbering other guinea pigs

    - Social grooming
    Guinea pigs lick and nibble their companions to strengthen their bond. Affectionate nuzzling typically happens around the eyes, but it can be anywhere. Spilled medication, veg or fruit juice on the chin can also be the cause for a clean-up operation that can include a nibble. Sometimes, this grooming behaviour can go further, especially if it involves a youngster or a long-haired guinea pig, but it can happen at any time in a relationship.
    We have seen cases here on the forum where a long-haired adult pig was turned into a short-hair one over the course of just one week by an enthusiastic new baby boar companion.

    A (mild) example of social grooming going a bit further are my wifelet Heini and her 3 year old new neutered ‘husboar’ Carwyn. This behaviour is usually well tolerated by the older guinea pig, as it is affectionate. Many cases of affectionate grooming fall into this category although a few guinea pigs can go rather on over-kill when it comes to nibbling down to the skin.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-38-4.jpeg [/SIZE]

    View attachment 39177
     
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  3. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    - Dominance grooming

    - During bonding
    Here is an example of rough power grooming during a bonding session from light Iola to dark Terfel. Unlike other previously dated boars (that did not appraciated Iola starting her own brand of power grooming), Terfel only complains, but does not swipe at Iola. He then proceeds to show her how it should be done properly (and incidentally gently asserts his own dominance over her!)
    PS: Sorry, you need to wait about a minute until you come to the relevant bit of the video.


    - In the course of a hierarchy change
    This is an example of severe grooming. Hywel had been losing weight and his position as the leader of his group while he was developing dental issues and eventually a full-blown root/jaw abscess. During this period, he was increasingly barbered and bullied by the bottom sow Tanni, who was especially keen on pushing him out of his favourite sleeping corner. The barbered areas are those that she could reach to try and force him out.
    Due to the abscess and the ongoing medical and dental treatment, I separated temporarily until Hywel had fully recovered. I removed his favourite little nook to prevent a repeat of the barbering.

    This picture has been taken about two weeks after he was barbered right down to the skin over a larger area on his side and at the back. You can see how his hair is already growing back, especially on his right flank.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-42-29.jpeg

    - Nervous habit or social interaction
    Occasionally, guinea pigs turn out to be persistent groomers, to the extent of keeping a whole group of long-haired guinea pigs looking like neatly groomed short-hairs. In this case, the only measure is to either love your piggies with their new hairdos or to find the perpetrator and ideally pair them with a short-hair guinea pig for the long term.

    Barbering can also be the way of interacting with their comrades when a blind/deaf guinea pig is otherwise happily living with a group of healthy guinea pigs. In that case, due to the haphazard nature of the grooming, the group or companion is starting to look rather ragged.

    Newly bonded cataract lady Mali is munching enthusiastically on Terfel's train, just as the other two cataracts wives had finally lost interest!
    IMG_3817_edited-1.jpg
     
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  4. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Self-barbering

    - Habitual over-grooming
    Some longer haired guinea pigs over-groom habitually, typically where they can reach easiest over the haunches. I have had several guinea pigs doing this. The majority had a stressful breeding or neglect background, which may contribute.

    Here is Tesni as an example. I usually only have to cut the hair in the front half of her body and right down the prolonged spine line at the bottom end where she cannot reach. The hair is never eaten down to the skin.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-48-18.jpeg

    - Stress
    A stressful situation can cause a guinea pig to start barbering itself.

    A good example is Crisiant, who was experiencing hormonal issues at the time, namely being in season continuously. She also shows the classic pattern of self-barbering; you can spot the shortened hairs by their lighter colour.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-49-10.jpeg

    - Pain
    Acute pain can cause self-barbering or over-grooming, often down to the skin in a very specific localised area of the body. This can be caused by arthritis, for example in the leg joints, a growing tumour in the body, discomfort from impaction, semen rods or urethral stones etc, just to name a few I things I have come up against. In these cases, it is very important to see a vet promptly to get to the bottom of what is causing the localised pain and make sure that pain relief is provided.

    This is a picture of Terfel, who developed increasing pain in his legs in the last couple of days of his life before losing control over them altogether. You can see the barbered area over the back leg; on the leg itself it went right down to the skin, despite being promptly put on painkillers.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-49-38.jpeg
     
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  5. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Problems that can look similar to barbering

    - Skin parasites and ringworm
    Mange mites and ringworm (fungal) are both very painful and irritating for the skin. They can occasionally look initially like a case of barbering or self-barbering. However, any guinea pig that is biting its own skin or scratching itself bloody and develops balding/bald patches needs to be promptly seen and appropriately diagnosed and treated by a vet. Please do not home treat on spec with low dosed shop products that do more harm than good!

    In this case, it started out as some energetic barbering of Essylt by young Mererid. But after a few days, the typical mange mites triangle developed on Essylt’s back and all guinea pigs in the group became very itchy, so a trip to the vets for 3 rounds of appropriately dosed ivermectin was indicated.

    Mererid barbering Essylt, likely because she has detected the subtle changes in the skin wrought by the emerging mites.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-57-24.jpeg

    Essylt then started to show a classic mange mite triangle pattern on her back (in combination with vigorous itchiness and self-barbering/biting). You can clearly see where Essylt has been pulling on more tufts of hair around the edges of the balding area.
    upload_2015-11-23_20-58-59.jpeg

    - Hormonal problems and nutritional deficits
    Small ovarian cysts can unbalance the hormones and in some cases cause hair loss on the sides of the belly. Hair loss on the sides and the belly can also be caused by malnutrition or an unbalanced diet, as well as mechanical abrasion from taking weight off painful legs as well as issues in the genital area (urine scal, urethral stones, impaction or sperm rods etc.). Please see a vet if you notice hair loss in these areas.

    This is a picture of a sow with hormonal hair loss. You can see that the area of thinned hair is sitting straight over the belly area.
    (Picture courtesy of Guinea Lynx website, credited to Elly's sow Meg)
    hormonal hair loss - Elly via Guinea Lynx.jpg

    - Normal bald patches
    Most guinea pigs have got a bald patch behind the ears and no or little hair on the ears (where the body temperature is regulated via the blood flow). This should be symmetrical; if it is isn't, please see a vet!

    Due to regular washes, the skin on the inside of the front legs becomes bare. This is the way guinea pigs keep themselves clean and their coat in prime condition.


    Conclusion
    As you can see, barbering is not necessarily quite as simple and straight forward as you would have thought! It is very important that you do not just take things at face value, but watch carefully to see whether barbering is simply a normal part of social interaction or whether it is a symptom of an underlying health problem or a social change/pressure.
    If in doubt, please see a knowledgeable vet for an examination. Don’t just go and spray the barbered guinea pig or put the “naughty piggy” into isolation!

    And to end the thread with a smile - Essylt caught red-mouthed barbering me!
    upload_2015-11-23_21-5-49.jpeg
     
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