Can Dogs Get Lice? What To Know

Four Minutes
Jan 09, 2023

You may be familiar with lice from grade school, where this tiny bug is commonly spread among students on the playground. But did you know dogs can get lice, too? Finding little insects in your pup’s fur can make your skin crawl, but treatment is fairly simple! Read on to learn more about lice, how your dog can get them, and how to treat and prevent them.

What Are Lice?

Lice are tiny parasitic bugs that feed on the skin debris and blood of their host.3 For dogs, there are three species of lice that commonly pester your pet:3

  • Linognathus setosus, a blood-sucking louse
  • Trichodectes canis, a louse that bites and feeds on skin debris
  • Heterodoxus spiniger, a biting louse that feeds on blood

Female lice will lay their eggs, commonly called “nits,” close to the skin. Because of this, these bugs can linger for weeks, even months on your dog. Nits are incredibly difficult to dislodge, and it takes about 3 – 4 weeks for them to become adult lice and continue the reproduction process. Once they’re adults, they cling onto individual hairs on your dog at the base of the shaft.

How Do Dogs Get Lice?

There are several ways dogs can contract lice, but it’s most common when dogs come in direct contact with a lice-infested animal.4 Lice can also transfer from grooming tools or fabrics like bedding and sheets that have been recently contaminated. These insects don’t have wings, so dogs need to touch a contaminated surface or an infested dog directly in order for lice to cling onto them. This transmission usually happens in high-traffic areas for dogs such as kennels, dog shows, dog parks, daycares, and groomers.

Can dogs get lice from humans?

The good news is that lice are species-specific, meaning you can’t catch lice from your dog, and your dog can’t get lice from you. You may also be wondering, “can dogs get head lice?” The answer is simply “no,” at least not the kind that impacts humans. So you can rest easy knowing lice can’t spread to your pups or from your pups to you.

Symptoms of Lice

Dogs with any type of coat can get lice — just because your dog appears to have a thin, short coat doesn’t mean they can’t get them without protection. While lice isn’t a common diagnosis thanks to preventative medication, there are a few different warning signs to look out for:4

  • Excessive scratching
  • Restlessness
  • Matted fur
  • Hair loss around commonly scratched areas (ears, neck, shoulders, groin)
  • Small wounds from lice bites
  • Anemia

Your dog may also have lice if they’re experiencing these symptoms alongside tapeworms. Lice carry tapeworms and other parasites that can infect your dog. If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to notify your veterinarian. You should also inform the places you regularly take your dog, such as dog parks and daycares, especially if you get a confirmed diagnosis.

How Do You Treat Lice on Dogs?

As with most parasites, lice prevention is always the preferred method of treatment. Most flea and tick preventatives will protect against parasites like lice.

Lice infestations are most common among dogs who don’t take monthly flea and tick preventative medication. They also typically infest dogs who are old, sick, or found as strays.4

If your dog has lice, strip any bedding and clean all fabric surfaces to get rid of any potential lingering lice or nits. There are a few steps to take when handling a lice-infested dog, depending on the severity of the case.

Start with a flea comb

Flea combs are fine-toothed combs that can go between hairs to pick up living and dead lice. While this won’t kill the eggs that are glued to the base of the hair shaft, it can help dislodge adult lice to make the shampooing process easier.

Clip or shave hair if necessary

While the last thing anyone wants to do is shave their pup’s fur all the way down, a lice infestation may require it, especially if the dog’s fur is matting. Matts can be a breeding ground for these tiny bugs, so it’s near impossible to get all of the lice without removing them. Shaving your pup down can also help you get as close to the skin as possible for medicated topical treatments.

Use shampoo or topicals with insecticides

Beginning a shampoo or topical treatment regimen that contains an insecticide like fipronil, imidacloprid, or selamectin can be an effective treatment for lice.4 Keep in mind that these shampoos and topical creams/powders won’t kill nits, so you must provide consistent treatment for about a month until all the eggs have hatched. If you have other dogs in the home, they should undergo treatment as well to ensure the lice won’t spread and create bigger issues in the house.

Pet Insurance Shouldn’t Be a Head-Scratcher

Prevention is the best way to keep your dog happy and healthy, but accidents happen. Dog insurance can help keep you covered against parasitic infections like lice, as well as help with preventative treatments to ensure your dog doesn’t get them.2 Want to know more? Get a quote today to find out how a MetLife policy can help.1

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1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “Lice of Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

4 “Dog Lice: What They Are, How to Avoid Them,” American Kennel Club

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