The words Dog Breed Info with the letter D inside of a black paw print

Canine Lice

Close Up of dog lice

YES, dogs get lice. It is a different kind of lice than humans get, and much easier to treat, and it is not transferable to humans or cats. Dog lice are species specific, so you, your kids, and your cats cannot get lice from your dog. And a person with a human form of lice cannot pass it to their dog. Human lice crawl fast; dog lice are almost motionless. The human form of lice likes clean hair. A dog’s coat is not clean enough for human lice to live on.

Close Up - A person is lifting the fur of a white dog to expose its canine lice

Picture of a Maltese which came in for grooming

Dog lice infestation is not common with dogs in this country, especially those that live in a clean environment and get proper care and attention. Although rarely discovered on healthy animals, poorly nourished dogs are more apt to get lice.

There are two species of canine lice:

  1. Biting (Mallophaga): trichodectus canus and Heterodoxus spiniger (feed on skin flakes and skin)
  2. Sucking linognathus piliferus setosus (feed on dogs’ blood and are more irritating)

Cats have one biting louse and that is Felicola subrostratus.

Lice lay eggs (termed nits) on the hair shafts. The lifecycle takes about 21 days to complete.

Females lay up to 100 eggs or nits. The nits of the canine biting louse are protected by an operculum and are cemented to the base of the dog's hairs.

Of all parasites, lice are by far the easiest to treat because they are not active in our environment like fleas and ticks.

They are flat, gray, wingless parasites that are about a twelfth of an inch long. Dog lice are very slow movers. In fact, they hardly move at all. They do not jump from dog to dog like fleas, but dog lice are still spread through dog-to-dog contact, so if your dog interacts with other dogs on the trail, at the dog park, at your friend’s house or in doggie day care, your dog may be exposed. If your dog shares a bed or crate, it can be infected. Grooming instruments may serve as a source of transmission.

The white fur of a dog with canine lice and person with a gold ring splitting the fur to get a better look

Picture of a Maltese which came in for grooming

If your dog has been scratching himself more than normal it could be due to lice. Lice are very small, but can usually be seen by the human eye. They look like little black dots and have a clear lining around them. They do not really look like bugs, but more like dirt. It is very easy to see the lice if your dog is infested, but many pet owners miss them especially in cases where dogs only have a few lice on them and they can be very hard to find. They attach themselves to the skin, so you have to push the fur around to look for them. Groomers are often the ones to discover the lice when using a high-powered blow dryer, so it is good to schedule a time to have your dog checked.

Have your dog professionally groomed regularly. It’s always good to have another set of eyes check over your dog. If your groomers find anything unusual, they will notify you. You can also talk to your vet about preventive treatments such as Frontline or K9 Advantix. It is recommended that you put your dog on one of these preventive regimens if you are bringing your dog to a doggy-day care. There are some natural alternatives, but the stronger treatments, such as K9 Advantix and Frontline, are best.

Close up of the long white fur on a dog with the hairs parted to show canine lice

Picture of a Maltese which came in for grooming

If your dog has lice, you have a few options on how to deal with the problem. Dog lice causes severe irritation and illness to your dog. In addition, dog lice carries disease and can cause complications such as anemia.

  1. You can bathe your dog in a pyrethrin-based shampoo at seven-day intervals.
  2. Contact your vet about using Frontline, Advantiks, Advantage, or Revolution as a preventative measure, and if your dog has visible lice. It is recommended that you repeat two weeks later.
  3. For pregnant dams, and puppies over six weeks old, Revolution is one of the most recommended preventatives, but always consult your vet first.
Close up - A white dog with little black dots of canine lice in its long white coat

Picture of a Maltese which came in for grooming

If you have a puppy that is infected with lice, consult your vet first before starting on any kind of pesticide treatment or other type of medication. Especially with toy puppies, they do not tolerate flea baths.

To prevent further lice infestation and make sure that all the lice eggs have been completely eliminated, it is a wise idea to wash and sanitize all bedding and dry on high heat. Or throw away all bedding that your dog has laid on during lice infestation and disinfect the area where he sleeps. Wash the clothes you were wearing when you groomed and found the lice.

Courtesy of MistyTrails Havanese

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