Q&A: Do Dogs Get Lice?
…but keep reading for a more complete “do dogs get lice?” answer, including:
- What does dog lice look like?
- Do dogs get lice from humans?
- Dog lice vs. fleas
- What are the symptoms of dog lice?
- Dog lice treatment
- Natural treatments for dog lice
CC Image “Hug in Lisbon” courtesy of DavideGorla/Flickr
If you’re one of the parents that has ever received that letter, notifying you that your child has lice, you know the panic that can ensue.
But what about dogs…
Do dogs get lice?
Is it the same kind of lice that people get?
These are just a few of the questions that have recently come up, and we’ve decided it is a topic that is definitely worth looking into.
Follow along to find out what we came up with, and what you can do if your own dog has lice.
What Does Dog Lice Look Like?
Dog lice are insects with six legs that are wingless, flat and small.
At the end of each leg are claws that are very much like hooks and enable them to hang on to the hair and feathers of mammals and even birds.
It’s important to note that the size of these claws is particularly specific to the size of the hair or feather of the animal that has become the host.
For this reason, they are specific to a certain species.
Their nutrition comes from not only the blood of the animal they live on, but also the feathers, sebaceous secretions and even dead skin debris.
Do Dogs Get Lice from Humans?
Some people wonder if lice can be passed between animals and humans, and we are happy to tell you that…
No, dogs don’t get lice from humans.
Lice that feed on human blood are not able to change their preferences simply because they land on a dog or other animal.
The same is true for dog lice that land on humans – they eat only dog blood and will not stay for long on a human.
There are two main types of dog lice:
- Chewing lice. They survive only by eating the dead skin and skin secretions. Usually found only in tropical regions, and very rare to North America, they have a flat head that is blunt and very characteristic.
- Sucking lice, which feeds on blood. These are the most common and are characterized by their sharp pointy mouths.
Dog Lice vs. Fleas
You might be wondering (as many people do):
What is the difference between dog lice and fleas?
They both survive the same way – by drinking the blood of the dog – and they both cause the dog to itch.
The biggest difference between lice and fleas is the color.
Lice tend to be a very light color, sometimes white or yellow, while fleas are usually darker and sometimes even black.
Another difference is how they move.
Lice attach to a hair follicle and remain in the same position while you’re likely to see fleas moving around on your dog’s skin and fur.
If you’re looking to spot their frequent hiding spots, it’s important to know that lice are most likely to be found around the shoulders and rear end of your dog’s body, as well as around the neck and ears.
Fleas, since they dislike direct light, will be hiding around the inner thighs and on the belly.
What Are The Symptoms of Dog Lice?
Since lice are so light in color, they are often mistaken for a case of dandruff.
It’s easy to see them though, if you know what you’re looking for.
Start by parting the hair and examining the shaft. As adults, lice are visible and about the same size as a sesame seed.
Chewing lice tend to move around, but since they are not generally found in North America, you’ll be better able to find the sucking lice.
They embed themselves into the dog’s skin in much the same way as ticks, so they can freely drink blood.
The most common signs of an infestation of dog lice include:
- A matted or dry coat
- Hair loss that occurs in the neck, shoulder, ear, and groin areas
- Skin infections caused by lice bites
- In extreme cases, your dog might even become anemic or develop tapeworms that are often spread by these parasites [more about dog worms here]
Dog Lice Treatment
In most cases, insecticides are used to kill off an infestation of lice.
Flea shampoos that have pyrethrins as a primary ingredient can get rid of them pretty effectively, as can topical treatments such as Advantage, when used every two weeks.
There are some important things to remember when treating for lice in dogs:
- There is no way at all to kill the eggs. Nothing has yet been found that can penetrate the egg’s shell.
- Once a treatment has been used, it doesn’t last that long. While the initial treatment kills the adult lice and any new hatchlings, there will be a new round of lice hatched in one to two weeks. Then you’re in for a whole new infestation, as these young lice attach to feed and grow.
In order to effectively treat for lice, so that they will be completely gone, it should be repeated for up to four weeks.
If you have more than one dog in the household, you also have to apply the treatment to all dogs, whether they were found to actually have lice or not.
It’s always possible that adult lice jumped onto them, laid eggs and jumped back off.
Natural Treatments for Dog Lice
In addition to the Veterinarian or chemical dog lice treatment, dogs can also be treated naturally.
This is great news for those dog parents who aren’t particularly keen on putting harsh chemicals on their fur babies.
It can be a bigger problem if you also happen to have cats in the home, as some of the chemicals used to kill lice are also toxic to cats.
One way to naturally treat for lice is to wash the dog each day with a shampoo that has d-Limonene in it. This is an insecticide that is derived from citrus, but is nontoxic to the dog.
After leaving this shampoo on for about ten minutes, rinse thoroughly and the adult lice should be dead.
As we said earlier, the baby lice will continue to hatch for a couple of weeks or more.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to give this same bath, every day, for at least four weeks.
You can use a fine toothed comb known as a “nit comb” to remove the eggs, but continue to bath with the shampoo, because it’s likely you’ll still miss a few eggs.
Unlike many other parasite problems, you won’t have to treat or wash your dog’s bedding or pet clothes.
That’s because lice will never leave the pet. They live, feed and breed exclusively on the dog itself.
Still, you’ll probably want to take a close look at any brushes or combs you’ve used on the dog, as well as the dog’s collar and leash, just to be sure.
Have you ever had to deal with a dog that has had dog lice?
If so, we’d love to hear how you got rid of them, what you used and how long it took.
We know that many people have different experiences with their pets, and we’d love to hear your story!