The Lowdown on Pet Lice

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It’s the time of year when pet lice are on the loose throughout grooming salons, doggie daycares, and boarding kennels! Lice may give you the creepy-crawlies, but luckily dog and cat lice are species-specific, which means that you can’t get lice from your pet nor can your pet get human-specific lice from you.

However, pet lice are extremely contagious within their own species (i.e. cat to cat /dog to dog) and can be transmitted to pets in one of two ways: direct contact such as touching an infested animal or through indirect contact with lice contaminated objects like grooming utensils or bedding.

Cat Lice:

Cat Louse + Egg Photo Credit: Alan R Walker

Felicola subrostrata is the only species of lice that infests cats. It’s a rather small chewing lice, typically around 1.2 to 1.3 mm long, and does not suck blood. You’ll typically find lice in stray cats, but lice can also infest older and immune weakened cats – especially longhaired cat breeds. ­

Symptoms of Cat Lice:

  • Dry, scruffy-looking coat
  • Excessive itchiness
  • Scratching
  • Hair loss, most often around the ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal area

Dog Lice:

dog lice Linognathus setosus
Linognathus setosus | Image Credit: VetBook

There are two main species of lice that infest dogs: The canine biting louse is trichodectes canis, and the blood sucking dog louse is Linognathus setosus. Adult canine lice are pale, wingless, and flat and are small only around 1.5 to 4 millimeters in length. Usually, they can be seen by the naked eye and often look like little black dots or specks of dirt and your vet may need a microscope to confirm the presence of lice.

Lice are annoying and may make your skin crawl, but fortunately, they are not common in companion dogs. Your dog could pick up lice in areas where there is direct or indirect contact with an infested dog or nits like a grooming salon or boarding facility.

pet lice Trichodectes canis
Dog Lice Trichodectes canis | Photo Credit Adam Cuerden

Generally speaking, lice tend to thrive mostly on older dogs or dogs with a weakened immune system. When lice are present, they usually are found in dirty areas under matted hair around the dog’s head, ears, neck, shoulders, and genitalia.

Symptoms of Dog Lice:

  • Excessive itching, scratching or licking
  • Small wounds or infections from bites by sucking lice
  • Biting the affected areas
  • Hair loss, specifically around ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal regions
  • Rough, dry, or matted coat
  • Anemia

How To Treat and Prevent Pet Lice:

Thankfully, pet lice are one of the easiest of all parasites for your veterinarian to treat and are easily killed by topical prescription medications. If you suspect your pet might have lice, you’ll want to quarantine that pet immediately, especially if you have other animals in the house. This quarantine may help prevent your pet from transmitting lice to others through indirect contact and will reduce the area you have to clean and disinfect.

Once your vet has confirmed that your pet has lice, she’ll recommend a topical prescription treatment to kill the lice. While the treatment will kill the nymphs and adult lice, it won’t kills the nits (eggs), so treatments will need to be repeated at regular intervals for a month or more. Lice can transmit Dipylidium caninum, a parasitic tapeworm that targets dogs and cats, so if you suspect your pet has lice it’s important to get immediate treatment!

Your vet will likely recommend that the infested pet and all other same-species pets that have been in close contact be treated every 1 to 2 weeks, for at least four weeks, to ensure the infestation has been eliminated. If your pet has spent a lot of time around other animals in a small space such as a boarding kennel, you should let the facility know that your pet has a confirmed case of lice so other pet owners can seek treatment for their pets before the infestation takes hold.

In addition to a prescription lice treatment, you should wash and sanitize (or dispose of) any bedding that was used by the lice infected pet and disinfect and sanitize its sleeping area, grooming equipment, leashes, collars, and any other spaces that it frequented. To avoid indirect contact or spreading pet lice you should also wash any of your own linens in hot water that your pets frequently come into contact with like bedspreads, pillow cases, blankets, and comforters to avoid reinfesting your pets or transmitting the parasite to pets outside of your household.

If you suspect your cat or dog might have a lice infestation, please give us a call at 1-888-995-8387 and our Calgary or Edmonton area vets would be happy to come out to diagnose and treat any of your critters with pet lice. You can learn more about the in-home services we offer and get our pricing by requesting our Welcome Kit by email!

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