Can Dogs Get Lice – What Are Dog Lice & How To Kill Them?

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Having a child come home from school with a case of head lice is every parent’s worst nightmare. The first thing that popped in my mind when my kid got lice at school was, “can dogs get lice too?” 

Inspecting, shampooing, and combing my kid’s head is tedious, but not as horrifying as combing and inspecting every single hair on my dog’s body.

Just thinking about nits and manually removing them from my dog’s coat gave me a headache! 

If you have ever had to deal with lice, you know that killing and getting rid of them is like battling a full-blown flea infestation!

These nasty parasites don’t want to die, and they are extremely difficult to destroy if you don’t realize that your dog has lice early on.

The good news is that lice are species-specific parasites, meaning your child’s head lice can’t pass on to your pup, and your child can’t get lice from your dog.

The bad news is that your dog can still get lice from other dogs and pass them on to any other pups that are living in your home.

To help you prevent a full-blown infestation, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about dogs and lice. Keep on reading to find out what are dog lice, what are the signs that your dog has lice, and how to get rid of them.

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What Are Dog Lice?

If one of your family members has lice at this time, I have good news for you! Your pooch can’t get lice from you or other people, and you can’t pick up this parasite from your dog.

If you wondered if dogs can get head lice, know that while your entire family might get infected, your dog won’t be the one to blame.

Dog lice are small, flightless, six-legged insects that live in your dog’s fur. Lice typically feed on the skin, debris, sebaceous secretions, and the blood of their host, which is in this case your dog.

These nasty parasites also have strong hook-like claws at the end of every leg, which they use to attach to a dog’s hair shaft. 

There are two basic types of lice that infect dogs and three distinct species of lice that can find their way into your dog’s coat. 

The two distinct types of lice are:

Chewing Lice

This type of lice has a distinctive flat head and needs to eat skin, debris, and sebaceous secretions to survive. When it comes to this type, two distinct species of chewing lice are commonly found in dogs – Heterodoxus spiniger and Trichodectes canis. 

Besides being a huge nuisance and causing a dog to be itchy and scratchy, Trichodectes canis can serve as a host for intestinal parasites and infect your dog with tapeworms. This species is found worldwide and will typically live on a dog for 30 days. 

Heterodoxus spiniger, on the other hand, is rarely seen on dogs in North America, although it has been found on coyotes, red foxes, and gray wolves. This species of lice has been identified on dogs in Mexico. 

Sucking Lice

Unlike chewing lice that have a blunt head, sucking lice have a pointed and sharp mouthpiece that allows them to attach to their host’s skin.

As their name suggests, this type of lice sucks the blood of their host to survive. Linognathus setosus is the only species of sucking lice that is found in dogs.

This species of lice is found in tropical and subtropical regions and is common in North and South America, India, Asia, and Africa.

Yeesh! Just thinking and writing about these little creatures is making my skin crawl. I’ve scratched my arm several times just thinking about sucking and chewing lice!

How To Tell Whether Your Dog Has Lice?

If you suspect your pooch has lice, part their coat and examine individual hair shafts. Inspecting your dog’s coat for lice and nits is the best and fastest way to confirm whether or not you have a lice infestation on your hands.

Adult lice are around two to four millimeters long and are large enough to be seen with a naked eye. Generally, the size of a sesame seed and typically yellow to tan, or medium brown in color, adult lice are easier to spot than nits.

Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll mistake dog lice for fleas or flea dirt, which is darker and almost black in color. 

There is also a way of telling whether your dog is infected with chewing or sucking lice.

  • Sucking lice tend to attach to their host like ticks on dogs and generally stay in one place.
  • Chewing lice, on the other hand, move more, covering large areas of your dog’s skin.

Upon close inspection if your dog indeed has lice, you will also notice tiny white dots clinging to your pup’s hair shafts. Due to their shape and small size, lice eggs, also known as nits, can sometimes be mistaken for dandruff or skin flakes.

However, you can quickly check whether your dog has dry skin or lice by shaking the hair.

If the tiny white dots remain on your dog’s hair, you are probably dealing with lice. But, if the small white flakes come falling out of your dog’s hair, there is a high chance that your dog is suffering from dry skin and dandruff. 

Besides close inspection, some other signs can also tip you off that your dog has lice. The most common signs of lice infestation in dogs are:

  • Severe itching and scratching
  • Biting and rubbing the infected areas
  • A dry and matted coat
  • Restlessness
  • Small wounds or bacterial infection causes by bites from sucking lice
  • Hair loss around the neck, ears, groin, shoulders, and rectal area
  • Anemia as a result of a severe infestation in small breeds or puppies
  • Tapeworms or other intestinal parasites

How Can Dogs Catch Lice?

Unlike fleas that can jump from one host to another, dog lice have pretty limited mobility and crawl to get from point A to point B. Interestingly, an adult louse will die in a few days if it falls off the host and is unable to find another victim to feed on. 

Keeping that in mind, most dogs get lice through direct contact with an infected dog, although lice can be passed from infected bedding, leash, collars, brushes, or other grooming tools.

Although lice aren’t as common as fleas or ticks, your dog is at risk of getting lice at any place where dogs spend a lot of time.

Dog parks, kennels, doggy daycare centers, dog shows, and any other place where dogs pass time are a potential breeding ground for dog lice.

If your dog doesn’t have adequate protection, they are at risk of catching lice if they come into contact with an infected dog.

Although adult lice die a few days after they drop or are pulled from a host, lice eggs may continue to hatch over a period of two to three weeks.

Like fleas, lice also have different life stages to complete a louse life cycle. All lice go through the following three life stages:

The life cycle of a louse starts when the female lays tiny eggs, called nits, and glues them to the base of the host’s hair shaft.

Since the eggs are glued to the hair, they won’t fall off even if you are bathing your dog with the best dog shampoo and conditioner money can buy. Getting rid of nits is one of the hardest aspects of killing all lice and dealing with the infestation. 

Once the nits hatch, they go through a nymph phase before reaching adulthood and becoming reproductively capable adult lice.

Most lice need between three to four weeks to go from nit to an adult louse that can start reproducing. Keep in mind that this time frame isn’t set in stone and it can vary from one lice species to the next. 

How To Get Rid Of Lice On Dogs?

Although dogs can have lice, they rarely do thanks to the use of flea and tick treatments for dogs. Truth be told, nowadays, lice are often found only in stray, feral, old, and sick dogs that don’t have dedicated owners to care for them. 

If your dog ends up catching lice in a boarding facility or after an encounter with a stray dog in the park, there are several things you can do to get rid of dog lice. 

For severe lice infestations, the first step is trimming a dog’s coat, especially if it’s already matted and impossible to comb.

This way, you will be able to get rid of a significant amount of lice and nits that are residing in matted and tangled fur. Once the matted fur is out of your way, you can use flea combs to go over your dog’s coat and remove any remaining live or dead lice.

If you decide to use the comb, don’t forget to immerse it in water mixed with flea shampoo or some other type of insecticide for at least 10 minutes to drown any living lice.

The downside of the flea comb is that it won’t kill lice eggs or prevent them from hatching and becoming adult lice.

Although many people shy away from using insecticides on their dogs, they are highly effective at killing lice and other parasites.

Topical treatments or shampoos that contain selamectin, fipronil, or imidacloprid are effective at killing adult lice and won’t harm your dog if used appropriately. 

If you have any concerns about using insecticides on your dog, talk with your vet and see if they can recommend an alternative course of action. 

Keep in mind, while effective at killing adult lice and nymphs, insecticide treatments won’t kill or remove the eggs.

So whatever type of treatment you decide to use, you’ll need to repeat it at regular intervals for one month or more to kill the next generation of adult lice when they hatch. 

If you have multiple dogs in the household, you will have to treat them all to be on the safe side.

Even if by any chance you managed to prevent your dog from spreading lice to your other pooches, you should keep the infected dog and their belongings away from other pets for at least four weeks after treatment. 

Besides treating your dog for lice, you should also wash their bedding, leashes, collars, sweaters, and vests in hot water to kill any remaining adult lice or eggs.

You should also disinfect and clean all areas of your home where your dog spends time to prevent new infestations. 

Furthermore, consider throwing away and replacing all of your dog’s grooming tools, since they will likely be contaminated.

Since lice eggs are extremely sticky, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to remove them completely from your dog’s grooming tools. So, the safest thing you can do is to throw them away and replace them with new brushes and combs. 

Although dogs can carry lice, dog lice aren’t attracted to people. So, even if your dog manages to get infected in some way, you can rest assured that their lice won’t pass on to you or the rest of your family.

As mentioned previously, lice usually attack dogs that live in unsanitary conditions or have poor health and are seldom found on dogs who are kept as family pets. 

If your pup by any chance manages to get lice from a stray dog or while staying in a boarding facility, don’t despair.

Instead, start treating your dog’s infestation as soon as possible and make sure your pup is up to date on their flea and tick treatments since they also offer protection against dog lice. 

FAQs About Can Dogs Have Lice   

Can dogs get lice from humans?

Lice are species-specific parasites, and while dogs can get lice, you can’t infect your pooch with head lice. Human head lice need to eat human blood to survive and are adapted to the conditions provided by the human scalp and hair.

Dogs can’t get lice from humans, and people can’t get lice from dogs, but dogs can carry lice and transfer them to other canines. 

How do I know if my dog has lice?

Itching, scratching, biting, and rubbing affected areas are the most common signs of lice on dogs. Additionally, your dog might have a dull, matted coat, seem irritated and restless, and even show signs of hair loss around the rump, ears, and neck.

While all of these signs are associated with lice, the safest way of knowing if your dog is infected is to examine its coat. 

Lice are usually visible with the naked eye and you shouldn’t have trouble spotting them if your dog is indeed infected. To be on the safe side, inspect your dog’s hair shafts as well, and look for tiny white dots that are, in fact, nits. 

How common are lice in puppies?

Lice infestations are relatively rare among puppies and dogs that are kept as pets and are properly taken care of.

Dog lice are, in most cases, found in feral, stray, old and sick dogs that live on the streets or in shelters, and are kept in unsanitary conditions.

Lice infestations are easily preventable with topical flea and tick treatments, so it’s highly unlikely that your dog will get lice if you are staying up-to-date with monthly flea preventatives. 

How do you get rid of dog lice naturally?

Using a non-toxic, anti-lice shampoo that contains D-Limonene, a compound sourced from the peel of citrus fruits, is an extremely effective and completely natural way to kill lice on your dog.

Combined with natural anti-lice shampoos, you should also comb your dog’s coat using a flea comb and try to remove nits manually.

Repeat bathing your dog with the anti-lice shampoo for several days, and continue combing until all adult lice and nits are killed and removed from your dog’s coat.  

Conclusion

If you wondered can dogs get lice, now you know they can. But the good news is that lice infestations are fairly rare in dogs, especially those that are properly taken care of.

In most cases, lice can be found in stray, feral, old, and sick dogs that live on streets or are kept in unsanitary conditions in an overcrowded shelter. If you suspect your dog has lice, you should:

  • Look for signs of frenzied itching, scratching, biting, and rubbing the affected areas 
  • Inspect your dog’s coat and look for lice and nits
  • Take your dog to the vet to be examined and checked for lice

If it turns out that your suspicions were true, don’t despair!

Start treating your dog’s lice infestation and invest in an effective monthly flea and tick treatment to prevent future lice infestations.

Have you ever had to deal with lice on your dog?

If so, tell us about your experience and what you did to eradicate the little pests.

Share your experiences in the comment section below.

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Can Dogs Get Lice? And How To Get Rid of Them - Black Labrador Retriever scratching his ear.

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Can Dogs Get Lice – What Are Dog Lice & How To Kill Them? was last modified: July 6th, 2021 by LTHQ



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