Lice are tiny, six-legged crawling insects. Lice infest your pets’ hair or feathers and feed mainly off dead skin, body secretions, and sometimes even blood. These little parasites are flat and wingless. They have strong claws that allow them to cling to your pet’s hair with determination.
Lice fall into two categories: bloodsucking lice and chewing lice. Bloodsucking lice only live on mammals; chewing lice infect both birds and mammals. Lice rely on their host to complete their life cycle and primarily spread through direct contact with another host. Lice infestations are more prevalent in the winter months, easing off in summer.
Pediculosis, or an infestation of lice, causes pain, itching, hair loss, and inflammation in animals. In many cases, lice can cause more serious illnesses like tapeworm and bacterial infections. Therefore, you need to identify an infestation, identify the root of the problem, and treat it accordingly.
Poor health or inadequate nutrition can cause pediculosis in an animal. Unwashed bedding for domestic animals and overstocking for agricultural animals can all cause lice infestations.
The good news is that lice are species-specific. This means they will not jump across species – for example, they will not transfer from dogs to humans, or spread from cattle to dogs.
There are three stages in the lifecycle of lice, all of them occurring on the host :
The female lays eggs or nits at the base of the host’s hair’s shaft. Nits are tiny white, yellow, or brownish eggs, almost translucent. The eggs are glued to the hair, making it difficult to shake them off.
The life cycle varies across the species; generally, it takes about four weeks. Lice lay eggs that hatch into tiny nymphs after about a week. At first, the nymphs are difficult to see because they are tiny, about the size of a pinhead. After another week, the nymphs reach the early adult stage. Then, it takes two more weeks for the lice to reach full maturity and begin breeding. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are easier to detect.
What are the signs that your pet has lice?
• Scratching and biting their skin.
• Extreme restlessness.
• Rubbing parts of their body on the floor or against furniture or walls.
• Scabs or small open wounds on the skin.
• Bacterial infections on the skin, caused by sucking lice.
• Hair loss, particularly around the ears, neck, shoulders, or groin area and tail base.
• Dry or matted fur.
Lice and nymphs can be seen when you part the animal’s hair. Chewing lice are very active. You can see them crawling on the body of your pet. Blood-sucking lice are generally slower, invariably with their mouths embedded in the animal’s skin. Sucking lice have tapered mouthparts while chewing lice have broader and more developed mandibles.
What are the risks of lice infestations to the health of your pet?
• Anaemia – especially in smaller animals, kittens, and puppies.
• Some lice species act as an intermediate host for tapeworm and other parasites.
According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, recent studies indicate that more arthropod-borne infections are transmitted by domestic animal lice than was previously believed.
So how does your pet contract lice?
Lice are crawling insects, unable to fly. This means that, for lice to spread, an animal needs to make direct contact with other infected animals. An animal can also contract lice from bedding, pet collars, grooming tools, or animal toys. Lice may be passed in parks, grooming parlors, pet vacation kennels, pet daycare centers, cages, and horse stables. But, once a louse falls off its host, it will die within a few days if it is unable to find a new host.
How to Get Rid of Lice
When the lice lay eggs, the eggs are glued to the animal’s hair and are difficult to shake off. However, the number one enemy of lice is a fine-toothed comb – readily available from animal product shops.
Insecticides can be used topically to kill the nymphs and adult lice, but this will not kill the eggs. The eggs will continue to hatch even after the animal’s treatment. Because combing does not remove everything, continue treating your pet with an insecticide product to eradicate all of the eggs, and continue with regular combing every week for at least a month after the first treatment.
When applying medication powders and creams to your pet, be careful not to inhale or absorb the chemicals through your skin. Wear a mask and gloves.
To prevent spreading the infestation to other animals, treat all of the animals in your household. And, if necessary, quarantine the infected animal. Wash your pet’s bedding in hot soapy water with disinfectant, and clean all of the areas that they frequent.
Seal non-washable items in a plastic bag for two to four weeks to wait for the cycle to complete and the lice to die off.
How to Get Rid of Dog Lice
The first step to treat dog lice is to cut your dog’s hair as short as possible, weather permitting. This allows you to get a better view of the problem and helps you remove some of the nits that have been ‘glued’ to the hair. A haircut also allows you to spread topical treatments more evenly and, if the infestation is heavy, will provide instant relief to your pet.
Use a grooming comb to dislodge most of the eggs, nymphs, and dead lice from the dog’s coat. Remember to wash the comb well after use by inserting it in an anti-flea solution or insecticide.
You can also try wet combing. Mix a solution of hair conditioner and bicarbonate soda. Work this through the hair by parting it and applying the mixture. This method will assist you with the elimination of eggs and adult lice. Wipe the comb off on a tissue after every run through.
Once your dog or cat has been treated, ensure that your home has been thoroughly cleaned before allowing them back inside.
How to Get Rid of Cat Lice
Like with dogs, to diagnose a cat lice infestation, you need to separate the fur and get a good look at the skin. If you see tiny brown or whitish spots on the skin and suspect lice, take your cat to the vet for a proper diagnosis.
Other cat lice symptoms are excessive scratching, rubbing, or biting off their skin, and hair loss or matting of the hair.
To treat cat lice infestations, take your cat to see a veterinarian. The vet will recommend an appropriate insecticide for the specific lice species. If there are other cats in your home, it is a good idea to isolate the affected cat.
Unless the fur is badly matted, shaving is not recommended for the treatment of cat lice.
If the cat is unable to groom itself, you will need to bath and brush them frequently.
How to Get Rid of Bird Lice
Mites and other parasites may infect birds, so bird lice identification is not a simple matter. Bird lice are small, brown colored insects that you may see crawling through your bird’s feathers.
Do not try to kill bird lice on your own, as many pet medications are too strong for birds and may harm the animal. If you detect insects on your pet bird, have a proper diagnosis done by a vet, preferably someone specializing in birds. If you have an aviary, ensure that your vet checks out your other birds also.
As with other pets, deep cleaning of your home will be important – clean their beds, feeding bowls, and toys. And, clean your bird’s cage thoroughly by scrubbing its surfaces, corners, and bars, really getting into each nook and cranny.
How to Get Rid of Lice on Horses
Both biting lice and bloodsucking lice can infect horses. This happens particularly in the thick coat that they grow in the winter months.
Horses that are stabled together tend to be infected more easily when they share blankets, brushes, and equipment. In the event of a lice infestation in horse stables, you will need to undertake a thorough cleansing ritual to treat horse lice.
A horse lice infestation will result in extreme itchiness for the animal, especially in the areas around the forelock, mane, tail, and sometimes around the top of the hooves where there is thick hair growth.
Treatment includes a permethrin-based dusting powder, shampoo, or rinse. Be careful not to apply the treatment to areas where the pet’s skin is broken or irritated. This can cause additional complications.
How to Get Rid of Chicken Lice
Generally, chickens rid themselves of lice by taking dust baths. But, when a chicken lice infestation occurs in the chicken coop, it can get nasty – resulting in death if left untreated. Living conditions are paramount. A small coop that you do not clean out regularly is fair game for parasites.
When you bring in a new batch of chickens, isolate and monitor them to ensure these new chickens do not bring parasites.
Signs of lice infestation in chickens are:
• Reddish patches and wings that look chewed on.
• Pale combs and wattles.
• Tiny specks accumulating around the vent.
• Continually drooping wings. (Not the normal drooping to cool themselves off)
• Itching and more dust bathing than usual.
• A drop in egg production.
• Lice eggs on the feather shafts near the body.
Because chickens live in dirty environments, you will need to remove them from the coop immediately in the event of an outbreak.
Dust the chicken with food-grade Diatomaceous Earth mixed with play sand. Combine 12 cups of Diatomaceous Earth to 50lbs of sand. Repeat this process weekly and then monthly to prevent further outbreaks. This method will also rid the chickens of other pests.
Additionally, feed the chickens on protein and iron to replace lost blood cells and restore their energy. Pumpkin seeds, peas, and spinach are all good sources of iron. Give your chickens scrambled eggs (yes!) for protein.
Clean their coop thoroughly. If your pet chicken has the run of the house, then you will need to clean your home thoroughly too.
You can treat severe infestations with a pyrethrin insecticide.
How to Kill Lice on Bedding
Once your dog or cat receives treatment, you will need to clean their bedding, collars and leashes, toys, and jumpers. You will also need to clean your carpets and furniture, using hot water where possible. Place existing lice or eggs in a sealed container for at least four weeks – this will give them time to hatch and die. Make sure grooming tools are free of eggs and replace them with new tools if possible.
How to Get Rid of Lice on Furniture
Insecticides and foggers contain toxins, so they are not recommended for killing lice on furniture and beds. In addition to giving your mattress and furniture a good vacuum cleaning, you can place items outside in the hot sun for a couple of hours, weather permitting. Given that lice only live a short while after dropping off the host body, a thorough vacuum every day is sufficient to get rid of lice on furniture.
Insecticides and Medication
When treating a lice infestation on your pet, you need to differentiate between chewing lice and bloodsucking lice. This will enable the veterinarian to prescribe the best medicine for effective treatment.
Importantly, some insecticides you may use to kill dog lice could be toxic to cats. If you have a cat in your home, be sure to ask your vet for a product that will not harm your animal.
Always consult your veterinarian before administering any insecticide, particularly for animals of compromised health or pregnant dogs and puppies.
Today’s treatments usually involve a monthly or bi-weekly dosage. This keeps ticks and lice under control. And, well-fed and groomed animals are less likely to be infected than those that are old or sick, or strays and feral animals.
Your vet may carry spot-on products, specialized shampoos, dusting powders, sprays, and collars that are impregnated with insecticide to kill lice.
If your pet has had a bad lice infestation that has resulted in a skin infection or anemia, the vet may prescribe an antibiotic and even some supplements to help the animal recover.
Why is it so hard to get rid of lice?
The lice eggs left behind may continue to hatch for up to three weeks, which means that their life cycle will carry on unless you maintain a good follow-up and cleaning regime.
It is a good idea to check your pet every seven days for the first month and administer treatment in the form of powders or spot-ons as prescribed by your vet. After the first month, put your pet on a bi-weekly or monthly maintenance program. You should comb, bathe, and check them for lice regularly.
Please note that some of these treatments contain high doses of insecticide and that overdosing may cause complications. It is important to follow the directions on the label or use them under a vet’s supervision.
According to some vets, a lack of follow up is the biggest problem with lice infestations after the administration of the first treatment.
How to Get Rid of Lice Eggs for Good
Once you have removed the lice eggs, seal them in a plastic container for four to six weeks to ensure that the life cycle dies out.
Prevention is a better approach than curing an outbreak. You will need to create a maintenance program to prevent lice from laying eggs to get rid of lice permanently.
It is important to note that insecticides contain pyrethroids and pyrethrins, which can cause damage if used in the long term. Additionally, many species of lice have become immune to them. To avoid this issue, instead, use a natural product regularly that acts as a deterrent.
Using oil on the infected area may help smother the nymph or louse, which may assist in combing the nits out. However, lice can live without breathing for hours, so treat this approach as an aid rather than a total solution.
How to kill lice with Petroleum Jelly or Hair Gel.
Smother the affected area with the gel, leaving it on for as long as you are able. This may not kill lice, but it will make the lice and eggs easier to comb out.
How to Get Rid of Lice with Tea Tree Oil
According to research, two of the components in tea tree oil have insecticidal activity. Add a few drops to your pet’s shampoo or add the tea tree oil to a carrier oil, and apply for 30 minutes. Note: Do not apply tea tree oil to your dog in its pure form. A mixture of 15% tea tree oil with distilled water makes a good spritzer for ongoing maintenance of your dog’s skin.
How to Get Rid of Lice with Lavender Oil
Lavender Oil kills lice, but not nits. It can also be used regularly as a deterrent to contracting lice infestations at all.
How to Get Rid of Lice with Vinegar
Vinegar gets rid of nits but does not kill adult lice. The acid in the vinegar helps break down the glue sticking the eggs to the hair and, combined with a good combing after treatment, effectively removes nits.
If your pet has an oily residue after your selected lice treatment, you can use a dishwasher to dissolve the grease and cleanse the hair. Some brands of dishwasher dissolve the glue that attaches the nits to the hair as well.
In conclusion, these little critters can be controlled with a combination of perseverance and plenty of patience. Consult a veterinarian before administering insecticides. Once the lice infestation has been diagnosed and a suitable treatment prescribed by your vet, be sure to follow the instructions. Overdosing can harm your pet.
And finally, you must eliminate the cause of the lice infestation. Address any problems you may have with the overcrowding of livestock, poor nutrition, and any health issues your pets may have.
And clean, clean, and clean again.