If you’ve ever had a scare with head lice, it’s likely you never want to experience it again. Head lice, which is a specific species called Pediculus humanus capitis, only affects humans. In other words, while lice may spread from one human family member to another, it’s impossible that your pet was the cause of the problem.
Unfortunately, however, pets get lice – just a different kind. Keep reading to learn more about this itchy, annoying, and sometimes harmful parasite.
Which Types of Lice Affect Pets?
A louse (singular form of lice) is a wingless insect that lives in the hair, skin, or feathers of a variety of species, absorbing their blood or dander. Each type of lice is species-specific, which is why, for example, the common head lice that infects humans cannot feed off your dog.
Lice are very small, but like most insects, they’re composed of a head, thorax, abdomen, and six legs. Much like fleas, lice proliferate by laying eggs called nits. Nits are tiny, white oblong eggs, resembling dandruff, and they’re sometimes the first visual indication of an infestation. It takes about 4 weeks for a nit to develop into a reproducing adult louse.
Both dogs and cats, as well as pocket pets, certain birds, and livestock, can all become infected given the right circumstances. The types of fleas that are found on dogs (and other canids) include Trichodectes canis and Linognathus setosus. Cat lice, called Felicola subrostratus, are also specific to cats and do not affect humans.
Symptoms and Treatment
Now that you know that lice are species-specific and that your family will not become infected due to dog or cat lice, it’s also good to know how they spread. Having more than one pet of the same species means you’ll need to treat all of them for lice if one gets infected (regardless of whether they show any signs).
So, what are the signs?
- Scratching, biting at skin
- Rubbing face on floor
- Redness of the skin
- Hair loss
- Matted fur
In some cases, you may be able to identify the white nits on the skin or coat.
When pets get lice, treatment includes a few applications of a veterinarian prescribed medical shampoo/topical. While there are numerous products on the market, some of them are not as effective as others.
We must also stress there are products that are used on dogs that are highly toxic to cats. Never use a product formulated for dogs on cats, and cats should not be around during application. Pets who are being treated for lice should also be quarantined from other animals and should avoid dog parks. Initial treatments will kill adult lice, but not the eggs. That’s why more than one application is needed over a specific period of time.
Unfortunately, Pets Get Lice (and Other Parasites)
If your pet has been itching lately, please give us a call. Itching may indicate a wide range of issues, and oftentimes, other parasites, allergies, or dermatological issues are present. The sooner we can diagnose your pet, the sooner they can get relief from the discomfort and pain of chronic scratching.