Pets and Lice: What You Need to Know

There are many concerns you might have regarding your beloved pets and their interactions with lice. We’re here to help.

First things first: Your dog or cat cannot catch head lice from your child, nor can a child catch lice from an animal. Lice are extremely species-specific and can only subsist on one particular kind of host. That said, lice are much less common on pets than fleas or ticks, so be sure of what the infestation actually is.

 

Lice do carry diseases and can transmit tapeworms to your pet, so it’s a good idea to engage in preventative measures before an issue comes up. Keep your pet well-groomed and pay attention to scratching and biting at its fur, especially around the moister areas. That’s where the chewing lice congregate to consume the dead skin; the sucking lice go for the skin (well, the blood under it) at the neck and shoulders.

Make sure your pet’s environment is clean and well-kept, especially for an older, very young, or special-needs pet. All of these are more susceptible to lice, so they will need extra vigilance. A good diet and regular vet exams are a must, regardless, but a veterinarian can diagnose lice (as well as fleas and ticks, of course) and help you recognize what they look like.

If your pet does get lice, there are treatments you can undertake to eradicate them. You will, of course, need to thoroughly clean and sanitize all its bedding, toys, and living areas. If you can’t clean something, seal it in plastic for a few weeks. That will allow all the lice to die off.  A bath, shampoo, rinse, and a complete brushing with a nit comb will complete the procedure; isolate the pet, if possible, to prevent spreading lice to other pets.

Lice have a short life cycle, which means for you that you’ll need to destroy all the eggs and adults to prevent them from laying more eggs. Otherwise, the new eggs will hatch, and the entire ordeal begins again. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, naturally.

 

Lice eggs, or nits, are literally glued to the hairs of the animal they prey on. This is because, unlike fleas, the juvenile lice, known as nymphs, cannot jump. Nor can they fly, or swim, or really move much at all. So the egg is positioned exactly where the nymph needs to be positioned in order to eat when it hatches. The whole life cycle is about two to three weeks, and adults lay eggs constantly, so an infestation could last for months or even years if not eradicated completely.

Since the nymphs are largely immobile, and the adults are no great movers, either, they can only be transmitted through physical contact between hosts: Something to think about at the dog park.

There are chemicals in lice treatments that require a proper dosage be calculated for the animal’s body weight. Too little, and the lice won’t be affected; too much, and your pet could be injured. Be certain to use the correct medicines or insecticides for the correct animal: a dog’s treatment will be ineffective for a cat’s infestation. Most importantly, re-treat any animal two weeks after their initial treatment to ensure you’ve caught both sides of the life cycle.

If you do have multiple pets of the same type, you might want to treat all of them at once even if not all of them show symptoms. Omit harsher chemicals, but provide a bath and close grooming to prevent cross-transmission.

Again, different types of pets don’t need to worry about a louse built for one type attacking another.

 

The lice simply can’t utilize an alternate food source, so a rabbit and a horse are mutually immune to each other’s lice, and so on.

Simply paying attention to your pets’ comfort levels, and ensuring that they are well-groomed and properly fed will go a long way toward keeping them louse-free. Be aware that lice are a lesser danger in the realm of parasites, but difficult to eradicate without some hard, tedious work. Remember that you can’t get lice from each other, so don’t be concerned about getting deep in their fur to groom; in the unlikely event your pet has lice, you won’t be getting any from them.