Every parent dreads hearing that their child’s school has a lice outbreak, and it can be even more devastating when you find out that they have come home with the bugs in their hair.
Of course, you go through all the treatments and deep-clean all your sheets and carpets, but if you have a dog at home, you might be wondering, “Can dogs get head lice, too?”
Unfortunately, the answer is more complicated than you initially thought. Let’s take a look at whether or not dogs can get lice, if they can contract it from humans (and vice versa), and when you should see your veterinarian about this.
- 1 Can Dogs Get Lice?
- 2 Lice Symptoms
- 3 Lice Treatment
- 4 Treatment Duration
- 5 When to See Your Vet
- 6 Conclusion
Can Dogs Get Lice?
“Can animals get lice?” is a common question that many pet owners find themselves searching up after they find that their child has contracted it.
The short answer is yes.
Who’s at Risk
Dogs and cats alike can contract lice, though it is actually a very uncommon condition in household pets. Lice are more often found on animals that live in areas that lack proper sanitation.
Your dog also has a higher chance of getting lice if they have poor overall health, making elderly dogs and very young puppies at greater risk.
What Are Dog Lice?
Dog lice are tiny, flat, wingless insects with hook-like claws at the end of each leg, tailored to be the specific size of their host’s hair shaft.
This allows them to stubbornly hang on to their hosts’ even as they try to itch them off. Lice mostly survive off of skin debris, oily secretions, or even the blood of their host, depending on the type of lice.
Lice can be divided into two categories—bloodsuckers and chewers.
- Chewing lice eat the dead skin off your pets and may also carry diseases that irritate your pet’s skin. They may even transmit tapeworms to your pets.
- Blood-sucking lice, on the other hand, suck the blood from your pets. The pets’ constant scratching and biting to remove them can actually cause fur loss if left untreated.
Can Dogs Get Lice From Humans?
Lice are species-specific, meaning that dogs cannot pass on their lice to humans and vice versa.
Even if lice from a human head have fallen onto your dog or onto another surface in your home, they will only survive for about 24 hours – at most.
This is because head lice prefer settling in warm temperatures that humans are unfortunately prone to producing, rather than in the hotter body temperatures that dogs produce.
Still, this does not mean that your dogs are immune to spreading head lice around your house. In rare cases, lice will jump off a human head onto your pet’s body or some other intermediate object, like a couch or a hat. For a few hours, they will take advantage of their mobility and access your furniture and person to spread.
Most lice, however, will not take such a risk. About 98% of head lice cases are contracted through direct contact from one human head to another, so you usually will not have to worry about your dog spreading head lice to you or your family.
In fact, human head lice is far easier to spread from human to human, in contrast to dog lice spreading from dog to dog. Even the most hygienic human can still contract lice at times.
Dog lice, on the other hand, are not usually found in well-groomed dogs. They target more particular demographic of dogs such as:
- Stray dogs.
- Unhealthy dogs.
- Dogs left in unsanitary conditions or places.
- Dogs that have not been bathed in a while.
- Dogs who do not receive proper veterinary care.
The most obvious symptom of lice is just spying the parasite on your dog personally.
Checking for Lice
To check for lice, simply part their fur with either your hands or a flea comb and closely examine the hair shaft.
Adult lice are about three millimetres in length (or around the size of a sesame seed) and can range in color from yellow to tan.
Lice have pretty limited mobility as well. They are unable to jump, hop, or fly, but can crawl around your dog’s hair fairly easily.
Chewing lice tend to move around more than bloodsucking lice. The latter type tends to stick around one area and pierce your pet’s skin with their mouths to drink their blood.
On occasion, lice can also be mistaken for dandruff. To determine whether your dog has either lice or dandruff, shake the hair that falls from their coats.
If small, white flakes fall off, then it is dandruff. If the “flakes” seem to cling to the hair, however, then it is most likely lice.
This video gives more information on dog lice.
Signs to Monitor
Other signs that your dog may have lice include:
- Scratching or itching themselves constantly.
- A rough, dry, or matted coat.
- Hair loss, especially around their ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal regions.
- Sudden, small wounds or infections.
- Anemia in extreme infestations or with smaller dogs or puppies.
- The development of tapeworms or other bacteria or parasites spread by the lice.
Dogs usually contract lice from direct contact with other infected dogs. This means that your dog has a chance of getting lice at their daycare centers, dog shows, or your local dog parks.
Fortunately, lice infestations are fairly easy to treat, though merely bathing your dog will not get rid of much, if any, lice.
Lice’s claws will stubbornly cling to skin and hair no matter how much water or soap you pour on them.
One of the most thorough ways to help get rid of lice in your dog’s coat is to use a nit comb, or a very fine-toothed comb, to brush out both the adult lice and nits.
Nits, or lice eggs, can be even more stubborn to remove than fully adult lice and will look like tiny, glistening specks stuck to your dog’s fur.
These combs usually have very narrow teeth, perfect for trapping the tiny bugs between them. To kill the lice you capture, simply dip the comb in boiling water for a few minutes before brushing your dog again.
This option is one of the few chemical-free treatments, but it is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive as well. You need to be very thorough in combing every single part of your dog, especially around their armpits, groin, and ears, several times a day.
Lice is a surprisingly tough infestation to be rid of. You may even comb your dog many times over and still not remove all the lice.
Of course, this single treatment option may not even be feasible for certain breeds. This might work for a short-haired Chihuahua, for example, but it’s not sensible to tackle a Bernese Mountain Dog with such a tiny comb.
Using nit combs is also more of a supplementary treatment option, rather than a solution to use on its own. You will want to combine this option with one of the others listed below.
Your first step is to visit your veterinarian and hear their recommended treatment options.
Numerous dog shampoos, sprays, and powders on the market are quite effective in killing lice. Be sure to look for ones that use lime-sulfur, pyrethrin, and/or pyrethroid in their ingredients.
Also be sure to follow the directions on the bottle carefully, so you know how long the product can stay on their skin before you wash it all off.
Most treatments will not continue to work once you dry your dog off, so keep a regular, weekly shampooing schedule for at least the next six weeks.
Flea treatments can also help in preventing and treating lice. Your veterinarian may suggest medicines like:
If your dog’s fur becomes especially matted or clumped due to the infestation, then you may need to shave their fur.
Shaving will give you more direct contact with their skin and ensure that lice receive the full blast of your topical treatments.
Many dog shampoos or other topical treatments are great for killing off adult lice, but they are not as effective in killing the nits.
As such, you will have to treat your pet more than once a day for several weeks.
Treating All Your Dogs
Try to keep the infested dog quarantined for around four weeks or more, so as to prevent your other dogs from getting lice, too.
Most of the time, you should make sure that you treat all the dogs in your house, regardless if you think they have lice or not. After all, missing stray lice will just have the problem repeating itself.
Even the tiniest brush against an infected dog could result in an outbreak. Luckily, these treatment methods are not harmful, and your other dogs won’t be hurt by an over-cautious approach.
Treat Your Home
You will also need to repeatedly treat your home as well. Again, lice will sometimes crawl off the host onto soft furnishings or carpets and then latch onto another dog passing by, therefore spreading the infestation.
Adult lice can easily be killed by a thorough steam cleaning, but the nits will be much harder to remove. You can choose to either wait for them to hatch and then steam clean your carpets and furniture again, or you can use an insecticidal environmental spray product such as Nuvan Staykill, Acclaim, or RIP Fleas instead.
These insecticidal sprays are chemically designed to kill off all kinds of fleas, lice, larvae, and eggs. One of the biggest advantages of using this spray is that it is persistent, and will usually reside in your home for several months, effectively killing off all adult lice and the unhatched nits in just one treatment.
However, the lingering chemicals are toxic and can pose a great threat to any birds, reptiles, or fish you might keep in that room as well.
Whichever method you use to clean your home, make sure you use it on a regular basis. While you may have killed off the initial wave of adult lice, the unhatched nits may hatch at a later point and cause you trouble all over again.
The average lice lifespan from egg to adult lasts anywhere between two to four weeks. Adult females live approximately four weeks and will lay their nits on a daily basis.
Their nits will hatch one to two weeks after being laid while nymphs (the in-between stage between egg and adult) become mature, egg-laying adults within just two to three weeks after being hatched.
This is why weekly steam cleaning (or one-time insecticide treatment) for about six weeks is key. However, there is no harm in cleaning your house more than once a week or for a longer span of time than six weeks.
You should always follow your veterinarian’s instructions before applying insecticides to your pets, as they can have adverse effects on pregnant dogs and young puppies.
Make sure you wear gloves when applying these treatments as well.
Keep these treatment products away from where your children and pets can reach them. Be sure to wash your own clothing and the towels used in the washing process after each treatment session.
When to See Your Vet
Of course, if you suspect your dog has lice or some other kind of parasite at any point, then it is best to see your vet for a more definitive diagnosis.
They will often recommend more topical treatments like shampoos, powders, or sprays over the use of chemical insecticides.
They may also recommend that you deep clean all your rugs and soft furniture where your dog sits, as well as replacing all your dog’s old (and most likely infested) bedding, brushes, and combs.
Here’s a video with more information on dog lice.
Most dog owners dread looking up the question “Do dogs get lice?”
However, now that you know what to look for and how to prevent your dog from contracting it in the first place, hopefully, you can keep your pets relatively lice-free.
“Do dogs get lice?” They sure do! What’s your best way to deal with them?