Dogs and Lice
Pet owners often wonder whether dogs can get lice. Unfortunately, the answer is a definite YES.
But can dogs get lice from people? Luckily, no. Lice are species-specific, meaning that they stick to one species and seldom jump across different species. Dogs get lice from other dogs.
Can dogs get lice from other animals? Also, no, dogs won’t get lice from any other animal.
One or a few of your dog’s lice could jump across to you, especially if you share a bed or couch. The louse may bite you, but it won’t start an infestation on your body. Lice are fussy little critters, each dependent on one species only.
If you suspect that your dog has lice, you can use these guidelines to check your dog. If your dog does have an infestation of lice, known as pediculosis, you should have them checked by a veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and advise a method of treatment.
What do dog lice look like?
Lice are very tiny and flat, six-legged, wingless insects. Lice have sharp claws that they use to cling to your dog’s hair. Adult lice are generally yellow-beige or light brown and can be seen with the naked eye.
There are two kinds of lice:
- Chewing lice crawl around your dog’s body and eat flakes of skin and body secretions. They are identifiable by their flat, blunt head.
- Sucking lice need blood to survive. These lice possess a sharp, pointed mouth that they use to make a tiny incision in your dog’s skin and suck their blood.
Your veterinarian may want to know which type of lice your dog is infected with as it may influence medication choice.
The lice’s life cycle is a three-stage process: adult lice, eggs, and nymphs. The adult lays the eggs, which take about a week to hatch. The hatchling or dog lice nymph is very tiny at first, molting regularly until it grows into full adulthood 2 to 3 weeks later. Nymphs are much smaller than adult lice and are not always easy to spot.
Eggs, or nits, are small oval or round globules attached to the hair shaft base. Though it’s not always easy to see nits, you will see bunches of them clinging to your dog’s hair in serious infestations.
Dog Lice Symptoms
You may not be able to see lice easily, especially on long-haired dogs. Part the hair and look for adult lice as they crawl on your dog’s skin and for eggs clinging to the base of the hair shafts. Eggs are difficult to remove as they have been “glued” to the hair and need to be pulled off. Unlike normal dandruff, which will fall off your dog quite easily, dog lice eggs cling for dear life.
Signs that your dog might have lice include:
- Restless and unhappy behavior
- Extreme itchiness and scratching
- Hair loss, especially in the ears, neck, shoulders, and groin
- Matted hair
- Small sores or a bacterial infection caused by bites
- Anemia due to loss of blood in extreme infestations
How to Treat Dog Lice
The first step is to comb your dog. This helps dislodge the lice and sometimes loosen the nits. Grooming combs are available from pet care stores. Try smothering the nits with oil or petroleum jelly. This doesn’t actually kill them, but it lubricates the hair and the nits, and dead lice are easier to comb out. You may need to cut your dog’s hair if you have difficulty getting to the nits or applying medication. Always remember to wash combs and scissors after use.
Use dog shampoo to remove the oil or petroleum jelly – otherwise, the lice medication will not be effective. A small drop of dishwashing liquid added to the shampoo is harmless to your dog and will dissolve the oil or petroleum jelly. When your dog is clean, apply the medication to kill the lice. Always consult your vet to decide on an appropriate medication and dosage. Some medications may interact with other medications that your dog is taking, and the vet will need to make an informed decision as to what lice medication you should use.
Lice medication will kill the lice and nymphs but will not penetrate the eggs. This means that the eggs will hatch a week or so later, and the lice’s life cycle will start again. Sometimes, the dog’s medication is still effective and will kill the new nymphs, but this is not always the case. Your vet will have recommended follow-up treatments at regular intervals until the cycle has been broken and there are no more lice, nymphs, or nits on your dog.
Of course, if you haven’t cleaned your dog’s bedding, vacuumed the carpets and furniture, and sprayed with a recommended insecticide, the lice will soon be back.
You also need to take care of any other dogs in your home to ensure that the lice infestation doesn’t spread. Your dog may have become infected while at the grooming salon, boarding kennels, or romping with other dogs in the park. If you think this is the case, it might be a good idea to change your routine for a while or discuss the problem with the necessary people.
Application of Insecticides
Always consult your veterinarian before administering any insecticide. If your dog’s health is compromised or they are on other medications, the veterinarian should advise you on the correct medication and dosage. Puppies need special care as they may be more susceptible to anemia and skin bacteria.
Follow dosage instructions – an overdose of insecticide can harm your pet.
Insecticides for dogs come in various forms, including dog collars that have been impregnated with insecticide, dog lice shampoo products, dusting powder, spot-on products, sprays, and oral medicines or injections.
Pyrethroids or Permethrins treat canine lice successfully. However, permethrins are extremely harmful to cats. If you have a cat in your home, you should never consider permethrins as a solution to killing lice, as they could kill your cat too. Other substances can be used with equally good results.
Imidacloprid is a systemic insecticide that acts as an insect neurotoxin and effectively treats lice infestations in dogs. More toxic to insects than mammals and birds, when handling imidacloprid, you should wear gloves and always wash your hands after application. If your dog licks and ingests too much of the product, they might drool or vomit. Your pet may develop tremors in excessive ingestion cases, have trouble walking, or seem very tired. Some dogs have skin reactions to this substance. But according to studies, there is no evidence that imidacloprid causes cancer.
Fipronil is a broad-use insecticide used to control insects. Belonging to the phenylpyrazole chemical family, fipronil works by disrupting lice’s normal central nervous system functions. It is more toxic to insects than mammals, but still, take care when applying fipronil products to pets. Wear gloves and always wash your hands after handling your dog.
Skin contact with the fipronil can cause mild skin irritation, and if ingested, you may experience sweating, nausea, headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, and seizures. Not easily absorbed through the skin, when in the body, fipronil is processed and removed naturally. Tests show that long-term exposure to fipronil might cause problems and that fipronil is toxic to many birds, fish, and invertebrates. Use caution when disposing of packaging.
Selamectin is the least popular method f0r treating lice. Get advice from a vet if you plan to use this on your dog. Apply selamectin by parting your pet’s hair and dabbing the product onto the skin, as with a spot-on treatment. Wash your hands immediately after application, and do not bathe your dog for 24 hours. This option is not suitable for puppies less than 6 weeks old.
Natural Remedies for the Treatment of Lice
While it may not be a good idea to treat serious infestations with natural products, they may be used to comb out dead lice and nits. Certainly, try natural options as a long-term maintenance option.
- Use petroleum jelly or hair gel as an aid when you comb nits and dead lice out of your dog’s hair
- Use vinegar to comb out nits. The acid in the vinegar helps to dissolve the glue that binds the nits to the hair
- Lavender oil kills lice, but not nits. Use lavender oil as an ongoing treatment to deter canine lice from taking up residence on your dog
- Tea tree oil has some insecticidal properties. Add a small drop to a carrier oil or your dog shampoo – do not apply tea tree oil directly to the dog’s skin. A 1% dilution is recommended, and only leave it on for 30 minutes. Test this method on a small patch of skin first before applying it across the entire pet’s body. Leave tea tree oil on for 30 minutes, and if your pet experiences no reaction, treat the whole body. A mixture of 15% tea tree oil and distilled water is a good spritzer to use as an ongoing deterrent.
Note: A drop or two of dishwashing liquid can be added to pet shampoo to help dissolve the petroleum jelly or oils that have been applied to your dog’s coat.
Ongoing Maintenance for Prevention of Further Lice Infestations
Your veterinarian may recommend that you treat your dog at regular intervals as a precaution towards further infestations. Most of the medication used for lice helps to control ticks and fleas, so make sure you know what pests are targeted when applying the medication.
While your dog is being treated for a lice infestation, you will need to thoroughly clean everything they have been in contact with, including other animals. Bathe your animals using a suitable dog lice shampoo. Wash surfaces, bedding, carpets, and furniture, and then apply an insecticide spray. Your veterinarian will recommend a suitable insecticide spray that won’t adversely affect your pets or yourself.
Regular checks need to be done during the treatment process and every couple of weeks thereafter.
Wash your dog’s bedding regularly and leave matrasses out in strong sunlight for a couple of hours whenever possible.
Be sure to clean and sterilize grooming tools after use.
Love Your Dog!
Finally, a healthy dog is a happy dog. A healthy dog has less chance of becoming anemic due to lice, flea, or tick infestations.
Be sure to give your pets plenty of fresh drinking water, a balanced diet, and daily exercise —preferably outdoors. And plenty of love!