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What To Know About Dog Lice

by ashley
Dog Lice

If your canine companion has carried home a lice infestation, you’re understandably concerned about eradicating these itchy, creepy, crawly critters as quickly as possible. Even though you may have had an experience with lice in humans, there are a few key differences when it comes to canines, and you’ll need to know the specifics of how to vanquish these varmints from your pup’s fur. Doggy Advice has the knowledge you’ll need to get rid of dog lice and keep them away for good. 

What Are Dog Lice? 

Dog lice are actually parasites, and an infestation of the insects is called pediculosis in your vet’s vocab. This particular pest is a teeny-tiny, wingless, six-legged bug that lives in the feathers and fur of mammals and birds. The clingy claws at the end of their legs let them hang on tight to the hair shafts of your canine’s coat. 

There are two different types of dog lice, chewing and sucking lice. The first category of the critters feasts on dead skin cells and sebaceous secretions from your dog’s epidermis. The second type is vampire-like and sustains itself by sucking your pup’s blood. Here’s what you need to know about both of these types of parasites and the regions where your pup could pick them up.

  • Chewing lice: The key characteristic of these lice is their unsharpened, flat head. Like the name says, their primary food source comes from chewing up your pup’s skin debris. There are two species of chewing lice that your canine can catch. The first, Trichodectes canis, is the most common, and this little globetrotter can be found worldwide. The second is Heterodoxus spiniger, and it lives mainly in tropical regions. Although infestations of this species have been confirmed in North America in wild canines like gray wolves, coyotes, and red foxes and in southeastern Mexico in domesticated dogs. This type of lice can serve as a vector for tapeworms, too, so make sure to check in with your vet if you find these critters on your canine. 
  • Sucking lice: Linognathus setosus is the scientific nomenclature for the type of louse that wants to dracula your doggo. These lice need to feed on more than just skin cells, and sucking blood is what it takes for them to survive. In contrast to the flat head of chewing lice, sucking lice have sharp, spiky mouths that let them access the blood supply. These bloodsuckers thrive in tropical and subtropical areas across the globe, including in North and South America. 

Can I Catch Lice From My Dog?

This question is probably at the forefront of any pet owner’s mind when a lice infestation is found on their canine companion. Let’s all breathe a deep sigh of relief here because the answer is, thankfully, no. Turns out lice are picky eaters. Their dining preferences are so particular that they’re actually species-specific.

Literally, lice are made to live on only one other creature. That’s because their clingy clawed-feet are designed to grasp precisely the hair or feather shaft of whatever animal is hosting them and nothing and no one else. Even if lice manage to jump onto your skin from a doggo who’s carrying them, the lice would die because you’re not a viable food source. 

So there’s the good news in this creepy-crawly conversation, since lice are specific to their hosts, your preschooler can’t catch lice from your pup and vice versa; your pup won’t pick up an infestation if there are human lice on a household member. 

Where Did My Dog Get Lice?

Another common question folks ask about Fido’s lice infestation is how did this happen? Where did my dog get lice? The short answer is that lice come from contact. This can be contact with another dog who has lice or contact with contaminated objects. If your doggo has been in close contact places like the dog park, a kennel, the groomer’s, dog-training classes, or a shelter, they could’ve contracted the contagious critters from any one of these places. 

Signs Your Dog Has Lice

Itching and scratching are fairly standard dog behaviors. We’ve all seen our Rovers run their hind legs while rubbing an itchy ear. But how do you know when your pup’s itch isn’t ordinary? If your doggo has had bouts of extreme itchiness, in some cases so much so that they scratch until their skin is broken and bleeding, that’s a sure sign that something’s up. In addition to the skin trauma that can be caused by itching, lice infestations can also cause your canine companion some serious discomfort and can lead to hair loss and infection. 

A lice infestation will be apparent when you look closely at your pup’s coat and skin, as you’ll be able to see the lice. How will you know the difference between lice and fleas? Color and speed of movement are key here. Lice are lazy little louses, and they move much slower than fleas, plus, they’re lighter in color. You’ll also be able to see their eggs. The eggs might look like dandruff flakes, but if they’re sticky and tricky to scrape away from the hair shaft, they’re very likely to be lice eggs. 

Diagnosis of Lice 

According to the AKC, diagnosis of lice in happily domesticated doggos is relatively rare. Regular vet visits and access to monthly flea and tick preventatives have driven down the number of infestations among dogs whose humans keep up with their health care. This means that a lice infestation is more likely in animals who are “old, sick, stray, or feral.” Even so, if you’ve found lice on your dog, it’s time to head to the vet. 

You’ll need to make an appointment with your vet to get Fido fixed up from the infestation. Your vet will check a sample of your dog’s skin to see what type of fleas they’ve contracted. Lice will likely be found beneath clumped or matted fur. They like the moisture of sweaty spots and can be commonly found on the head, neck, and shoulders or along the groin and tail. 

Under a microscope, your vet can get a better view of the lice’s distinguishing features, like the larger mouthparts of the chewing lice versus the narrower mouthpiece and more developed claws that distinguish the sucking lice. Your vet’s diagnosis will be based on your reports and their own visual inspection and identification of the insects.

How To Treat A Lice Infestation On Your Dog?

A good bath will undoubtedly be part of the solution, but it’s important to remember that plain old soap and water won’t rid your pet of their lice infestation. Upon diagnosis, your vet will recommend a course of treatment. 

It may be necessary to clip away any matted areas of fur in a severe infestation as these will contain lice and eggs that need to be removed. After clipping away problem areas, a flea comb can be used to remove any lice or eggs you find on other parts of the coat. Next comes treatment. 

The Companion Animal Parasite Council says that insecticides are a common and effective treatment for lice in dogs. Fipronil, imidacloprid, and selamectin are some potential medications your vet may give your pup. As a topical treatment, your vet may also prescribe permethrin. It’s important not to share any of these medications with other pets in your home outside of your vet’s direction, as many of these typical lice treatments that are helpful for dogs are toxic to cats. 

The insecticide your vet prescribes may be a shampoo used to suds up your pet, or it may be a topical treatment. Either way, it’s important to remember that these prescription medications won’t kill the eggs, meaning you may have to repeat these treatments in the month (or months) to come. 

Types of Treatments for Lice in Dogs

Alternatively, there are also safe, non-toxic treatments for lice that you may want to look at. While insecticide treatments are considered extremely effective, that’s due to the fact that they employ some exceptionally harsh chemical cocktails. If you’re the type to prefer a more natural route, here are a couple of ideas you might want to try. 

The Spruce Pets recommends a sulfur-lime dip treatment. Yes, it smells of sulfur, and it may turn your pup’s fur temporarily yellow, but it’s also highly effective. Your vet will also have info on this type of lice treatment and the frequency with which you’ll need to dip your pet. 

Wag Walking offers up a different natural treatment option. They recommend trying a citrus shampoo that contains the non-toxic ingredient d-Limonene followed by a lemon water rinse as a repellent. 

No matter which treatment you choose, you’ll need to go over your dog’s fur with a fine-tooth comb, literally. Even though it’s designed for a different insect, the principle is the same, and a flea come will work wonders here. This type of comb is designed to pull away dead lice after treatment and also lets you view your pet’s coat down to the roots where the eggs can attach. 

As mentioned above, removing the nits (the technical name for lice eggs) is the only way to ensure the infestation doesn’t come back. You’ll need to do this close-combing routine after each treatment and probably a few times in between too. Since new lice can hatch from nits left behind on the hair, continued treatment will be necessary until your vet gives you the all-clear.

Decontamination Of Your Dog’s Environment

Lice live in extremely unsanitary conditions, which is why it’s so unlikely that doggos who are living it up and lounging about their happy homes with their doting human companions are going to encounter them. Nevertheless, if you’re working with a rescue animal, for example, and you’ve had a dog with lice in any area of your home, it’s essential to decontaminate the space to prevent future infestations or spreading of the lice from one pet to another. 

First, any soft surfaces such as bedding, chew toys, and even collars and leashes should be thoroughly washed or disposed of in the event that washing isn’t possible. In other words, if it can’t be dunked in sudsy, hot water, and/or bleached or cleaned with a bleach solution, then you should probably ditch it.  Also, make sure to sweep hard floors and vacuum carpets regularly.

Dipping your dog’s grooming tools in insecticide between uses, never using them on other pets during an active infestation, and ditching them after the infestation has been cleared up is also a recommended tactic. Lice and nits can cling to the bristles of brushes and result in renewed infestation if they manage to make it back onto your doggo or another pet in the household. 

It may seem costly to replace all these items that may need thrown out. Still, when compared with the fees for vet visits and the various treatments for lice, you’ll see that the comparatively small expense of replacing these items can save you much more money down the road in avoiding another infestation altogether. 

Finally, consider quarantining your canine for around a month. At least in that they shouldn’t be sharing close quarters with other animals and that their bedding should undoubtedly be kept separate.  

Considerations About Canine Lice Infestations

If you’ve come across a dog who has lice and doesn’t seem to have a home, a likely case since lice love filthy living conditions, you may be wondering whether or not you can help the animal without putting yourself, your kids, or the furry best friend(s) you’ve got at home at risk too. 

In short, since lice are species-specific, you won’t need to worry about yourself or your kids catching lice, but you will need to protect any other pet’s in your home. The most important thing to do is get an examination with your vet and follow all their recommendations for how to kick this itchy insect infestation and keep everyone safe and healthy in the process. 


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