Lice In Dogs and Cats
There are 2 main types of lice in dogs and cats - sucking lice and chewing lice. Lice tend to be species-specific, so they tend to stay on their own preferred host. There are rare reports of the dog sucking lice infecting cats and few reports of lice transiently infecting people. Lice are rare in the US and tend to be seen in kittens, puppies, and pets that are not observed regularly (outdoor only pets). Keep reading to learn more about lice in pets, symptoms, diagnostic testing, and treatment options.
Lice Life Cycle
The sucking and chewing lice both complete their full 21-day life cycle on their host. Lice eggs, also called nits, attach to the hair shaft and look like firmly attached white flakes. Once the eggs hatch, the nymph emerges and goes through 3 molts to reach the adult stage. The chewing lice eat skin secretions, dried blood, debris, and fur. Sucking lice eat fresh blood and tissue fluids.
Lice are spread by direct contact with an infected animal, contact with contaminated bedding, combs, or brushes.
Symptoms of Lice Infection in Dogs and Cats
- Hair loss
- Dry or oily skin and coat
- Excoriations/wounds from itching
- Matted coat
- Papules (red bumps on the skin)
- Crusts on the skin
- Pale gums/anemia with sucking lice
How can my vet diagnose a lice infection?
Lice can often be visualized directly on the fur and look like white specks. Using clear tape to collect samples of the white flecks and evaluating them under the microscope can verify it is lice and if it is the chewing or sucking type.
Treating Lice Infections in Cats and Dogs
There are various treatment options for lice in dogs and cats. Lime sulfur dips, Revolution, Ivermectin, Fipronil-containing flea preventatives, and some insecticidal collars can be used. Many of these products need to be repeated every 1-2 weeks for a few treatments, but not all. Be sure to use the treatment as directed by your vet for the best success.
- If your pet has a lot of nits present in the coat, they should be shaved.
- All cats and dogs in contact with the infected pet should be treated with medication recommended by your vet.
- All bedding, brushes, and combs should be cleaned and disinfected, or replaced.
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