can dogs get lice?

dogs and lice
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Aug 28 2015

If you have school-aged children, you’re probably quite familiar with that feeling in your chest when the note comes home that says that four-letter word you’ve been dreading: LICE.

If you also have dogs, you may be wondering if the infestation can spread to your pets.

Can dogs get lice? Yes.

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Can kids pass lice to pets? Technically, but... it's not as bad as you may think. 

What are lice?

Lice are flat, six-legged insects with no wings. They can be seen with the naked eye, which makes diagnosis a snap. Infested pets will also have nits attached to their fur. These nits are eggs, and a female can lay several eggs each day, so their numbers will be obvious.

Lice on pets

Lice are species specific, meaning they can only live and reproduce on their given species. This doesn’t mean that bugs from your child won’t venture to your pet. It just means that they won’t stay on them. If your child brings home lice, there is a very small chance you’d find a stray bug or two on your pet, but nothing that will contribute to infestation.

However, pets can (and do) get lice – they just get their own kind. Their infestation won’t spread to you or your children, either, because they are species specific, too. Dogs can get one of two kinds of lice – sucking or chewing. Or if they’re really unlucky, they can get both. Sucking bugs suck your dog’s blood while chewing bugs chew your pet’s skin. Sucking lice are particularly dangerous to puppies, who may suffer from anemia when heavily infested. Cats can get one kind of lice – the chewing louse that uses its claws or mandible to attach to the base of a hair.

How to tell if your dog has lice

Lice can be seen with the naked eye, and they spend their whole lives on your pet’s body, laying eggs (nits) there, too. This makes it easy to diagnose, and, really, if you spend any time at all hanging out with your pet and petting her, you’d know if she had them. This is not generally a sneaky pest.

How are lice transmitted?

Lice are spread through direct contact with an infested animal or by contact with bedding or grooming tools that are contaminated with nits. They are more common in crowded, dirty conditions and in animals that have little human contact, but they can certainly occur in any pet who has been exposed. 

How do you get rid of lice on dogs?

Luckily, pet lice is pretty easy to clear up with flea and tick preventatives or other pet-safe insecticides. Upon diagnosis, your vet may give your pet an insecticide bath to kill the adults and then apply a topical preparation, such as Frontline or Revolution. Generally, these treatments are recommended every two weeks for three or four treatments to cover the bugs that will be hatching from their eggs. Your pet’s bedding should be disposed of or washed in very hot water. Without a host, the insects will die within 3 to 7 days.

Never try to treat it on your own – always ask your veterinarian for advice, especially where topical medications are concerned.

Updated: March 30, 2020

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