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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Matted fur
- Hair loss around commonly scratched areas (ears, neck, shoulders, groin)
- Small wounds from lice bites
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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