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Persistent Scratching and Skin Disorders
© paul goodman, Cait McKeown, Monkey Mummy and Ann Brown 2004, 2005.

< WARNING >

Do not use flea collars to treat a mite problem. Flea collars contain poison that may kill your mice, even at a distance. Your veterinarian is your best source of information for safely treating mite infections.

This is not an Urban Legend - THIS IS SERIOUS!

hist whist
e.e.cummings

hist whist
little ghost things
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twinkle toe

witches and tingling
goblins
hob-a-nob hob-a-nob

little hoppy happy
toad in tweeds
tweeds
little itchy mousies

with scuttling
eyes rustle and run and
hidehidehide

whisk look out for the old woman
with the wart on her nose
what she'll do to yer
nobody knows

for she knows the devil ooch
the devil ouch
the devil
ach the great

green
dancing
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devil

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Introduction by paul

Itching and scratching are common problems with pet mice. While the most common cause of itching is mites, there are a number of other problems that can cause itching. Other parasites like lice or fleas as well as fungal infections, allergies and autoimmune diseases like eczema can all be a problem. In order to effectively treat your mouse it's important to determine the root cause. When in doubt, a visit to a good vet that is familiar with rodents is advisable. Sometimes the problem starts out as one thing and turns into something else. If your mouse has a persistent scratching problem, don't give up before trying some of these ideas.

Many people with itchy mice start out treating for mites because this is most common cause. Mites are usually treated with ivermectin, which is effective against a number of other parasites including worms and maybe lice too; usually a few treatments will cure the problem. Remember, ivermectin is toxic; you should be careful not to overdose which can injure or kill a mouse. I've spoken with a number of people that just "couldn't get rid of mites" no mater how much ivermectin they used. Even with the help of a vet they can't figure out why the mice continue to scratch. These cases often develop into complicated problems where a mouse may shred his ears or develop open bloody wounds due to excessive scratching. When treating for mites doesn't work you should consider that the problem might not be mites at all.

If the scratching really started out with mites but continues after treatment, you can have your vet do a skin scraping to see if there is still a mite infection. If no mites are found the mouse may have developed what I call "addictive scratching". This is a syndrome that occurs in people too. It starts with a constant itch that could be caused by anything. The more you scratch the more it itches. Even after the original problem is cured the itching and scratching can continue. If there are open wounds, you need to consider the possibility of a secondary infection, which can complicate the problem. Scabs from previous scratching can be itchy and can lead to more scratching. Addictive scratching can be difficult to cure but it isn't hopeless; there are a number of things you can try.

There are several brands of antibiotic ointment that include have a topical analgesic. Both Neosporin Plus and Lanabiotic contain a painkiller to help numb the irritated area reducing the tendency to scratch. They will also help prevent bacterial infection, though they will not be effective against fungal infection.

Another option would be to use a little hydrocortisone cream on the effected area. Hydrocortisone is a steroid that does a pretty good job of reducing inflammation and stopping itching. Hydrocortisone has no antibiotic properties; it works by lowering the body's immune defenses and should not be used where infection is a problem. You can mix a very small amount of tea tree oil with the hydrocortisone to help prevent infection. Tea tree oil is strong and can be very painful and drying if used full strength, causing more scratching. I would mix no more than 5% tea tree oil with the hydrocortisone cream. Tea tree oil is a very wide spectrum antibiotic. It is effective against both bacterial and fungal infections. Tea tree oil can be purchased at most holistic groceries and health food stores. It can also be purchased in pre-mixed antiseptic ointments.

I've found vitamin E oil very effective in healing wounds. If the mouse has scabs or open wounds you may want to try this to promote faster healing. If you use vitamin E, you should keep the mouse separate during treatment. The cage mates may think the oil is food and bite at the area.



Cait on Itching and Autoimmune Problems

I had an itching/scratching problem with two bucks, which started as a mild case of mites and then after the mites had gone quickly progressed to uncontrolled scratching.

I've had the best luck using Johnson's eardrops for mites in cats (only one drop per ear), Eucerin cream for eczema (this brand worked on me too!) and Johnson's Tea Tree Skin Cream for small animals. These are all fairly cheap remedies and the tea tree cream is absolutely wonderful for all sorts of problems mice can have, including healing wounds and bites. I would not be without it now I have tried it and thoroughly recommend it. A natural ingredient that kills mites without ivermectin is Pyrethrins. This is an ingredient in the anti-mite sprays and eardrops mentioned above. If you are looking for a good ivermectin alternative check for Pyrethrins in the ingredients.

As a person having asthma, eczema and easily allergic to things, I can testify to how annoying an allergy can be. On my mice I have only used creams containing tea tree oil or eczema creams that work on me. Most over the counter eczema creams do absolutely nothing for serious eczema because the cream must contain steroids to work effectively. I would never recommend the use of steroids with mice, so finding Eucerin online was a lucky thing. Free samples are available through their U.K. website (http://www.eucerin.co.uk/).

I also use Beaphar's Dirty Rat shampoo (also called Sherley's Dirty Rat shampoo), which contains tea tree oil, on my mice if I suspect mites. It is wonderful as the natural ingredient kills the mites and soothes and relieves the mice's symptoms without ivermectin. Even if the mouse has other skin conditions this might be a good thing to try. Dry them thoroughly and keep them warm before applying the cream.

If you know the problem is not mites, you need to look elsewhere for an explanation. The first thing is to consider any recent changes such as food or bedding, and try a different kind. Like humans, mice can become allergic to something they were not previously sensitive to. At age 6 or 7 I became seriously allergic to nuts and had to go to the hospital, before that I would crack nuts for my mum at Christmas with no ill effects at all. Now I cannot go near any product containing nuts! I don't even have to eat nuts, I will get a bad reaction just from touching them. Since mice share 80% of our genes and are one of the closest models to humans used in research, I don't see why this would be wildly different for them. For this reason, when I had an immune-deficient buck I would prepare his diet separately so it would not come into contact with possible irritants. You should avoid buying a mix and picking out the allergenic ingredients; a serious reaction could still occur.

Visit Cait's site Fancy Mice for additional information on fancy mice, health, breeding, genetics and more.



Monkey Mummy on Food Allergies

I had a problem with one of my mice scratching obsessively around one ear, her face, her nose, her neck and her chest. After months of multiple vet trips, investigations ruled out mites, parasites, skin diseases, diabetes, and allergies to bedding. Eventually, the vet suggested that the problem might be a food allergy. Occasionally, mice can spontaneously become allergic to their food even if they have eaten it quite happily in the past. If you feed your mice on pre-packaged mix, this apparently can be much too rich and cause skin irritations in certain mice. This protein-rich diet can make the mouse get 'hot-spots', which make the skin sore and itchy, explaining why breeders often call food allergies 'overheating'.

As a result of this suggestion, we switched her to a special diet that has certainly seemed to help. Although she does have itchy days, she rarely scratches enough to make her skin bleed, and she is no longer obsessive about scratching. Her sore area has shrunk, rather than grown, whereas on her old, ready-mix diet, it was getting bigger by the week. The change of food certainly seems to have helped and improved things for us.

Our vet advised us to stay away from grains, seeds, bread and wheat, which are all things that animals can react to. She is fed on a diet of plain boiled BROWN rice, with lots of yummy fruits and vegetables. She also gets vitamins and supplements, especially Evening Primrose Oil that is supposed to be very good for skin. We have it in liquid form and put one drop on her food per day. If you use too much the mouse can develop diarrhea. If that should happen, reduce the Evening Primrose Oil. It takes about 4-6 weeks to see any improvement, but it is one of the most effective natural remedies available for skin complaints.

If this diet works, you can slowly, one by one, introduce old foods back in again, and try to work out the trigger for your mouse's scratching. Be patient with the diet, we were warned that it takes at least three weeks for the old food to be completely eliminated from their little systems. Improvements can be slow, and our mouse's fur has not really grown back over her old scratching patches, but she seems so much more comfortable than she was before. Our mice seem to love the cooked brown rice (even the non-allergic ones), and her itching has definitely improved, making her (and us!) much happier as a result.

Monkey Mummy can be found posting on the PetsHub mouse forum.



Ann Brown on Antihistamines

Rambo and his mate Tweaky were the parents of my first litter. He was born on Christmas day 2003 and was the best mouse I ever had. He was tame to the extreme and would take food from your mouth. I had him from 5 weeks old; he was a piebald and was a rare character. He liked wholemeal bread, which could have been one possible cause of his itching and his eventual death,

Around March 2005 Rambo started scratching. I watched him closely and he started to cause wounds around his face and ears. The latest addition to his diet had been yoghurt drops. Had he had too many?

Time for a visit to the vet! I had no experience with itching so thought he could have mites or fleas or something like that. Though I could not see any even with a hand held magnifying lens. I didn't know at the time that mice could be allergic to food or other things in their environment like sawdust or too much protein. Rambo was treated with the usual Ivomectin for a month and a two week course of Baytril I thought that he seemed to calm down for a day or two after he had each dab of Ivo but after 5 weeks he was no better, and my vet thought that he could have developed an itching habit or have a food allergy or possibly eczema. Her advice was to take him home try and keep him occupied as much as possible to keep his mind off the itch and hope for the best. Give him plenty of toys to play with

Rambo still constantly scratched and by now was tearing his ear and so next I tried Tea Tree oil on his wounds, and hydrocortisone cream. This didn't work either. After another week of this, I couldn't stand to see him being driven mad any more so it was time to take him to the vet again, this time to be put to sleep. This was the worse thing that I have ever had to do. Apart from his itching he didn't seem to be ill. I have had to put other mice to sleep when they had tumours but he was a very special little fellow.

I decided that if any more of my mice had the same problem, I would try antihistamine tablets. A family member has to take them for a rash when he gets hot, and I knew that in summer if he doesn't take them when he goes out to play football, he gets an awful rash.

23 June 2005:
About a fortnight ago, Peaky, a 14 month old buck and a son of Rambo, started scratching similarly to Rambo, so first I checked for mites ect, I used a brand name spot-on for Fleas Ticks and mites. After a few days of him still scratching, I decided to crush a hayfever tablet (1/6 a human dose) and put it in his water bottle to see if it helped. I hoped that it wouldn't do any harm and watched him carefully to see if he was quieter than normal or if he stopped scratching so much, I put one tablet in about 100ml (about 3 ounces) of water and left it for 2 days, I know he doesn't drink a lot so he wouldn't take too much of the antihistamine but hoped it would be enough to help him. After doing this for 4 days, he seemed a little calmer, so I carried on. After about 8 days, the wound on his head and his ears seemed to be healing up. I plan on continuing the antihistamine tablets, because it certainly isn't doing him any harm and seems to help.

The antihistamine I used is Piriton (chlorphenamine maleate), available in the UK; a human dose is up to 6 tablets a day, so one tablet is 1/6 of a human dose. I have only tried it on one mouse, so I can't be sure if it was the tablet that helped, but will have to wait and see, and if any more of my mice start scratching, I will try it with them too,

I wasn't able to find Piriton (chlorphenamine maleate) available in the US. I would suggest trying Claritin® (loratadine) and mix one tablet to 2 cups of water. This may vary depending on how much your mouse drinks, but it's probably a safe place to start. - paul goodman

I have also found that I have to address some feeding issues with my mice by altering their diet to take out excess protein, as I've learned a little more about possible allergies to certain foods.

I hope this article will be of help to others, who like me are searching for answers to help our little ones with this persistent scratching habit that some of them develop and causes them so much stress.

Email Ann Brown for more information on her experience with antihistamines and itching.


Disclaimer:
Neither any contributing authors nor I are veterinarians or doctors; I don't work in any medical field. Any medical advice for your mice or you is strictly my own opinion. When possible I try to provide links to supporting informational sites. I recommend that you discuss any important medical issues with your veterinarian or doctor. I do ask my personal doctor general medical questions pertaining to my mice. He's usually glad to answer them, but he's not a veterinarian either.

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