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Can Pets Get Lice? Dogs, Cats & Lice

Last modified: November 14, 2019. Information verified by President/CEO Maria Botham.

Head lice are a fact of life for young children, particularly in a school or daycare setting. When you are shampooing your child’s head for the fifth time in two days, you may find yourself wondering if it can get any worse.

The good news is that lice are fairly easy to kill with the right treatment.

The bad news is that your child isn’t the only one who can get them — your pets can get lice, too.

Lice are a nuisance, no matter who has them. Read on to learn whether your pets are in danger of contracting lice and what to do if they get them.

Can Pets Get Lice from Humans?

Fortunately, the answer to this question is no. Lice tend to prefer warm environments, and your child’s scalp is the perfect condition to keep lice nice and cozy. It might seem like there isn’t much difference between your child’s head and your dog’s — after all, they have the same dislike for bathing — but lice are species-specific. Human lice need to feed on human blood in order to survive.

Which brings up another question — are there lice that feed on dogs?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes! There are a number of different species of lice and some of them are known to affect dogs and other pets. Though it is much less common for pets to get lice, it can happen — particularly in places where sanitation is not a priority. Pets contract lice in much the same way as humans — through direct contact with an infected animal host.

What Do You Need to Know About Lice in Pets?

First things first, there are two species of lice that affect dogs: Trichodectes canis and Linognathus setosus. The only species of lice known to affect cats is Felicola subrostrata.

Lice are most likely to affect very young pets and senior pets, particularly those living in unsanitary conditions and those with existing nutrient deficiencies or health issues. Other animals can also be affected by lice, but, again, they are species-specific and do not transfer.

Another important thing to know about lice in pets is that there are two different categories: blood-sucking lice and chewing lice.

As you can imagine, blood-sucking lice feed on the blood of your pets while chewing lice live in dead skin.

  • Blood-sucking lice bite your pet and feed on its blood, which often results in skin irritation caused by a reaction to substances in the lice’s saliva.
  • Chewing lice cause irritation, making your pet scratch, and they can carry certain diseases and transmit tapeworms, as well.

How to Tell If Your Pet Has Lice

Frequent scratching is usually the first sign of lice in pets. When you notice an increase in scratching, you may want to check your pet’s coat for signs of lice.

Part the hair at the base of the neck and look near the hair shaft. Adult lice are only about 3 mm in length — about the size of a sesame seed — but they are big enough to be seen by the naked eye. Lice are yellow to tan in color and can sometimes be mistaken for dandruff. If you are not sure, shake the hair to see whether the flakes fall off. If so, it is likely only dandruff.

What to Do If Your Pet Has Lice

If you notice that your pet is scratching more than usual, your first concern is probably going to be fleas. Fleas are typically larger than lice and can be seen by the naked eye if you know where to look. Though lice may be more difficult to spot, they are actually easier to treat than other parasites. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns and to receive an accurate diagnosis. Once your vet has diagnosed the issue, you can talk about treatment options, which may include medicated shampoo, sprays, or spot treatments.

After treating your pet for lice, you may need to follow a protocol similar to what you would do for fleas by replacing your pet’s bedding and grooming supplies. You may also need to treat the furniture and flooring in your home to get rid of the lice permanently.

Though it is much less likely that your pets will get lice than your children will, it is still important to keep an eye out for the telltale signs.

If your child develops lice, try some nit-zapping products from Hair Fairies or trust the professionals at a Hair Fairies salon to take care of the problem for you. Just note that Hair Fairies products will not work for lice in pets — you will need to talk to your vet for treatment options.