How to Get Rid of Lice Infestations on Pets

Lice are tiny six-legged creatures that feed off skin and blood. Lice crawl all over your pet, biting them and causing them to itch. So, an early sign of lice on your pet is excessive scratching. Severe lice infestations can cause health problems for both pets and their owners, so if you suspect live, get your pet checked out sooner rather than later.

Ensure that what you are treating is pet lice by ruling out ticks and fleas as the cause of your pet’s symptoms.


Here’s How to Identify Pet Lice

There are two kinds of lice – chewing lice and blood-sucking lice.

  • Chewing Lice feed off bits of skin and body secretions on your pet. They don’t actually suck your pet’s blood.
  • Blood Sucking Lice pierce the skin of your pet and suck their blood.

Lice infestations in animals can cause pain, itching, hair loss, inflammation, and anemia. If your pet is looking unwell and shows one or more of these symptoms, get them checked out by your veterinarian. If left untreated, a lice infestation in your pet can lead to bacterial infections or even a tapeworm.


How to Identify Lice on Your Pet

There are three stages in the life cycle of lice. The adult lice lay eggs, or nits, which they glue to the animal’s hair. Nits hatch into nymphs, which molt a couple of times before turning into adults. Adults start the egg-laying cycle all over again.

  • Adult lice are flat, wingless, and generally cream or light brown in color. Adult lice can be seen with the naked eye as they crawl through your pet’s hair or feathers.
  • Nymphs look like adults but are much smaller and can be difficult to identify.
  • Eggs, or nits, look like tiny round globules and can be seen with the naked eye. Nits are glued to the base of the hair and, in large infestations, can be seen in clumps around the hair.

When treating your pet for lice, you need to eliminate all three stages in this lifecycle. Doing so can take a few weeks. To successfully stem your infestation, your pet needs to be treated in conjunction with the disinfection of their cages, beds, and surrounding areas.


Can Pets Get Lice From Humans?

The good news is that lice are fussy about who they inhabit and will not jump across species. So, your pet cannot get an infestation of human lice, and likewise, humans cannot get canine lice, feline lice, or any other pet lice. Lice also very rarely jump across different animal species. They need a particular species’ enzymes to survive. If a louse by chance jumps across to another species, it may bite and even suck some blood, but it will never cause an infestation.


How do you treat your pet for lice?

There are three stages to the life cycle of lice. Continue with the treatment of pet lice until you have eliminated all three stages. This can mean treating for lice for an entire month after your pet’s initial treatment or as recommended by your vet.

Killing lice is relatively easy. There are several insecticides on the market that, when applied topically, will kill lice. However, insecticides do not penetrate the egg’s shell, which means that the nymph will hatch later, and the life cycle will start all over. Insecticides also lose their effect quite quickly and need to be applied regularly until the pet is clear of infestation.

Before starting with the treatment, you should try to get rid of as many nits as possible. This can be done with a nit comb, which is available at vets and pet stores. If possible, cut your pet’s hair shorter in infected areas so that the nits are easier to remove. You can use oil or Vaseline to lubricate the hair and make it easier to comb the lice eggs out, but you will need to shampoo the animal thoroughly to remove the oily residue and make way for the lice treatment.

Important Note: Insecticides containing permethrins are highly toxic to cats. If you have both dogs and cats at home, DO NOT use permethrins on your dog. These insecticides could rub off onto your cat, potentially killing them.

  • Store medication in a cool, dry cupboard, avoiding extremes in temperature.
  • Never give your pet a double dose of their lice treatment. If you have forgotten to administer a dose, give them the dose and wait the required period before giving the next dose.
  • If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, contact a veterinarian immediately.
  • The requirements for your individual pet may be very different from what is on the product label. Various factors that vets take into consideration include the weight and status of your pet’s health. Certain insecticides are regarded as “off-label” or “extra-label.” Consult your vet before using these products.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after application of the lice treatment.


Preventative Treatment and Long-term Effects

Many pet owners use a preventative product periodically to treat ticks and fleas. Some of these products can be used to kill lice as well. Discuss the long-term effects of using these treatments with your vet and the possibility that these products may lose efficacy if used over a long period of time.

Make an Informed Decision About What Lice Treatment to Use on Your Pet

Although it is good to do your own research on the products you are treating your pets with and possible side effects, never administer medication without first discussing it with your vet. If your pet is on any other medication, there may be interactions between the two medicines.

Fipronil is relatively safe to give your pets. However, it should not be given to small puppies, kittens, rabbits, or pets that have previously shown an allergy to fipronil. Use cautiously on pets that are old and frail or sick. Insecticides with fipronil can last between 4 – 6 weeks, though pets with kidney or liver disease may take longer to process the insecticide. Always consult your veterinarian.

Imidacloprid is used to treat various parasites, including chewing lice. Do not bathe your pet after applying imidacloprid, as this may remove it from the skin and render the treatment ineffective. You can reapply the product if it is washed off, but never more than once a week. When applying the lice treatment, wear gloves and always dispose of the container safely in a bin as it is highly toxic to fish. Side effects are uncommon. But, if your pet licks their fur or skin, they may drool a bit due to the product’s bitterness.

Some products contain a combination of imidacloprid and other insecticides, and in this case, your cat may experience vomiting, shaking, or decreased appetite. Dogs may experience hyperactivity, lethargy, itchiness, and loss of appetite as well. However, this is an infrequent occurrence and happens only in the combination of products. This medication can last between 4 – 6 weeks before the next dose is required. Do not give imidacloprid to puppies or kittens without consulting a veterinarian. Combination products should not be administered to cats.

Selamectin can be used successfully to kill biting lice in dogs and cats. Consult your vet as to the dosage required for your pet. Side effects are rare, and the medication lasts for between 4 – 6 weeks. Consult your vet if your pet is on any other medication as there may be interactions between the two.


How to Get Rid of Dog Lice

Permethrins can be used as lice treatment for dogs, but they are very harmful to cats, so if you have a cat in the house, NEVER use permethrins on your dog. There are other products available for the treatment of lice on dogs.

Topical medicine should be applied every two weeks for a period of four weeks so that you can be certain of killing any newly hatched nymphs. Follow the instructions very carefully.

Dog lice shampoos that contain pyrethrins or organophosphates can be used once a week to treat canine lice for four to six weeks.

Read instructions carefully when using dog shampoo for lice. Usually, you will leave the shampoo on your pet’s coat for 5 to 10 minutes. If you rinse the lice shampoo off straight away, it will not be as effective.


How to Get Rid of Cat Lice

Domestic cats are generally only infected by one species of chewing louse, the Felicola substrates. Because cats clean themselves frequently, cat lice are more likely to be found on older cats that can no longer clean themselves or cats with really thick hair.

Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are effective pediculicides (lice treatments), but extreme caution should be used when treating cats with these chemicals. Lower dosage and slow-release products are available for cats, but it is probably best to avoid pyrethrins and pyrethroids altogether. Selamectin, imidacloprid, and fipronil work successfully to treat lice infestations in cats.

Spot-on products are widely used in feline lice treatment, but other products include collars, lice shampoos, sprays, and powders.


How to Treat Lice Infestations in Horses

There are two kinds of horse lice: the blood-sucking Haematopinus asini and the chewing Damalinia equi. Usually, the blood-sucking louse is found at the horse’s tail base, around the mane and forelock, or around long hair just above the hoof. The chewing or biting louse is found on the flank or side of the neck where the hair is finer and sometimes around the tail’s base.

Symptomatically, the horse will become irritable and bite at the infested area, leading to hair loss and skin loss in these areas.

Pyrethrin sprays, synthetic pyrethrins, or organophosphate coumaphos can be used to kill horse lice. If sprays frighten your horse, there are also wipe-on, pour-on, and powder solutions available from veterinarians. These horse lice treatments need to be repeated a couple of times to ensure that the horse lice’s entire life cycle has been destroyed. Normal horse shampoo does not dislodge the nits, nor does it kill them.

You may need to clip long horse hair and disinfect stables and trailers with an insecticide spray. Address overcrowding and general health issues where necessary.


How to Treat Lice in Birds

Bird lice can be seen crawling through its feathers. The bird will become itchy and scratch a lot. If you suspect that your pet bird has avian lice or other parasitic infestations, it is best to see an avian vet for advice. Do not use over-the-counter solutions for other pets, as this can kill your bird.

Make sure that you clean the cage thoroughly and spray your home environment with a recommended insecticide. Birds can be susceptible to chemicals, so it is important to get a recommendation from your vet as to the products you may use in your home.


How to Treat Lice Infestations in Rabbits

Do not use a fipronil product on rabbits – it is toxic for them.

Ivermectin injections every seven to ten days are effective treatments for rabbit lice. Three or four treatments should be sufficient to kill lice infestations in rabbits. Imidacloprid can be used safely on rabbits.

Myxomatosis is a viral disease found in wild rabbits, and it can be transferred to domestic rabbits through lice infestations, although this is highly unlikely. Myxomatosis causes mild symptoms in the Americas. However, it is more serious in European rabbits, including possible fatalities. If you are concerned about your pet rabbit contracting this disease, discuss a vaccine with your vet.


How to Treat Lice Infestations in Pet Mice, Guinea Pigs, and Gerbils

Symptomatically, your pet rodent may show signs of stress and have inflammation of the skin in the area of the neck and ears. A serious infestation could lead to lethargy due to anemia.

Medicated powders and sprays are available from your vet. In severe cases of infestation, a series of injections can be administered.

Inflammation and anemia will need separate treatment. Consult your vet.

Thoroughly clean cages and bedding, and if your pet has the run of the house, a recommended insecticide spray should be used to disinfect your home as well.


Long-Term Control of Lice in Pets

Lice are generally transmitted through contact with other animals of the same species. Overcrowding of pets in cages, stables, or any other area leads to several problems with ectoparasites, and this needs to be dealt with to maintain a lice-free environment.

Cleanliness is key, and there are several detergents and insecticides available that can be used in your home, pets’ cages, and beds without affecting your pets’ and humans’ health.

A healthy pet is less likely to succumb to serious infestations of lice and other parasites, and it is important to make sure that your pet has the correct nourishment and plenty of clean water to drink.

Once your pets are free of lice, it is a good idea to do regular checks and keep them in good health so that they have a fighting chance against the disease.

A healthy pet is a happy pet.

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