Can dogs get lice?: Beagle scratching

Lice are tiny, species specific parasites that cause skin irritation and restlessness.

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Lice in dogs: Prevention and treatment

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

A lice infestation can be uncomfortable and irritating for your four-legged friend. Contrary to popular opinion, they are a different species to fleas.

It can be an ongoing battle to keep your dog flea and tick free, but have you ever considered the impact of lice on your canine companion? 

As a completely different species, it's important to understand what they are and how to treat them. 

What are dog lice? 

Dog lice are small, flat insects, with six legs, that live in the fur of the animal. These external parasites can either be sucking lice or chewing lice, most commonly found on young puppies or geriatric dogs that are malnourished and that live in unhygienic conditions. 

A lice infestation, which is also known as canine pediculosis, can cause itchiness and irritation, leading to anaemia in the most severe of cases. 

Of the two species that can affect dogs, Trichodectes canis is the chewing louse. They have hook-like claws, to grip the host's fur, and using a large mouthpart, chew on dead skin cells. 

In contrast, Linognathus setosus use a narrow mouthpart to suck the animal's blood through their skin. 

Dogs will typically pick up lice by coming into close contact with contaminated objects or infested dogs. This could be in a boarding kennel or shelter environment.

Lice vs fleas

While lice and fleas are similar in many ways, they are an entirely different species of parasite. Lice are tiny, and they have almost half the lifespan of a flea. This ranges from 2 weeks-1 month, in comparison to 1-2 months in fleas. 

Lice are slow moving, and typically attach to the hair shaft of the fur, whereas fleas are quick and agile, possessing the ability to jump instead of crawl. 

What are the signs of dog lice? 

Much like with fleas, lice can be very uncomfortable for our four-legged friends. 

Signs of lice may include the following: 

  • Scratching 
  • Restlessness
  • Biting the skin 
  • A dry coat 
  • Hair loss (particularly noticeable on the ears, neck and groin area) 
  • Lethargy, and in severe cases, anaemia

Can dogs get lice from humans? 

Lice are species specific, and as such they cannot be passed from a human to a dog. 

If you suspect your dog has lice, they will not have picked them up from a person. You should not use human products to treat your dog's lice. Your veterinarian will be able to advise on the best course of action, and a treatment plan specific to your canine companion. 

Are dog lice harmful to humans? 

In much the same way that dogs cannot get lice from humans, humans cannot be harmed by dog lice. They need a specific host to keep them alive, and as such, dog lice will not transfer to another species either. 

You will need to take care to separate dogs in a multi-dog household, as lice are transferable between animals of the same species. 

How to get rid of dog lice

Regular flea treatments are the best way to prevent future infestations of lice.

However, if you suspect your dog has lice already, there are certain treatments your veterinarian may suggest. 

The life cycle of female adult lice is approximately 4 weeks, and they lay eggs daily. The eggs, also called nits, hatch within 1-2 weeks, which means getting rid of the lice can be a lengthy process. The initial treatment may kill the adults, but it will not kill the nits. To fully eliminate lice, your vet will most likely recommend treatment every 1-2 weeks for a minimum of 4 weeks

It's also essential that all bedding, furniture and carpets are thoroughly cleaned, as lice can survive for 3-7 days away from the host animal. 

While lice may be rare in well-cared for animals. it's important to remember that our canine companions can experience infestations. Understanding how to recognise and treat the problem, will mean your dog can live a happy and healthy life, free from pesky parasites. 

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