You might start scratching reading the word ‘lice,’ and shiver at the thought of your dog having lice. Here’s what you need to know to prevent and treat your dogs in the event they bring home those ugly little parasites.
What Is Dog Lice?
Dog lice are not the same as the lice we find in humans, and thankfully, they are species-specific. Dog lice are flat and small, with six legs and no wings. They live in the feathers and hair of mammals and birds and they stay on their prey because they have hook-like claws that grasp tightly to the feathers or hair shafts of animals. They are wingless, and they can’t jump or fly.
Many people believe that their dogs may have fleas or tick bites when in actuality, it could be dog lice because dog lice are itchy and irritating to a dog’s skin in the same way. And like the human lice form, the nasty little insect is quite contagious and can bring inflammation, pain, hair loss and other long-term health impacts to your dog, so you want to be sure to rid your dog of them immediately.
Types of Dog Lice
There are two types of dog lice parasite. Their scientific names are Trichodectes canis or Heterodoxus spiniger (also called chewing lice) and Linognathus setosus (also called sucking lice). As their names imply, the chewing dog lice eat skin debris and the secretions of a dog’s skin while the sucking lice use pointed mouthlike tactics to crack your dog’s skin and feed on its blood.
The various types of lice bring itching and discomfort but also bring diseases and tapeworms, so remediating the situation as soon as you can is important for the spread and comfort of your dog.
How Do You Know It’s Dog Lice?
If you notice your dog is itching and scratching or losing hair in places, you can look at his skin and see what’s going on. The dog lice are small, but just as you can typically with human lice, you’ll be able to see dog lice if you look closely at the shaft of their hair. They burrow in and are slow moving, and it’s easier to see sucking lice at any stage. Chewing lice are typically not seen until they reach the adult stage, so as soon as you notice them, you’ll want to begin treating the infestation.
You can also use a flea comb to help identify and spot, but if you don’t see any on the comb, look for other symptoms like skin redness, itching, hair loss, matted or dried fur or small wounds that look like ‘bug bites.’ It’s likely they are, and dogs who have dog lice go untreated can develop anemia. Sucking lice also take other nutrition and protein from your dog’s blood and sometimes, severe cases even require transfusions and supplements to replenish the blood.
How Does a Dog Contract Dog Lice?
Just as in humans and with human lice, being near another dog with an infestation is a main cause. This can occur in places where there are lots of dogs–parks, the vet office, kennels. Dog lice cannot jump, hop or fly and so specific contact has to happen for one dog to ‘give’ another dog lice.
Once the dog lice find a host, though, they hang out for a while, and much human lice–in stages. The egg, nymph and adult stages all cycle through in about a two-week time period, and that’s the approximate time in which you would most likely see symptoms manifest in your dog.
How Do You Treat Dog Lice?
Dog Lice infestations are not terribly common in the domestic household dog and more often seen on older, stray, sick or feral dogs. Typically flea and tick preventatives given regularly will prevent your pet from getting dog lice, though they are not guarantees. If you do find dog lice on your dog, you’ll want to shave the dog’s hair so you can be sure you are getting rid of pockets of lice and can see where dog lice may have burrowed in and are harder to reach.
Topical treatments can be used to get rid of the infestation, and what is used varies on the severity of the infestation. Fipronil, Selamectin and Imidacloprid are commonly used, as is Permethrin. If treating your dog yourself, you’ll want to be careful as those insecticides are toxic to cats. Vulnerable dogs (pregnant or sick or young puppies) may also be affected differently by those treatments, so we always recommend you ask your veterinarian for the best way to go about treatment.
Natural Treatments For Dog Lice
You may want to attack dog lice with a more natural approach. Many people first turn to flea and tick combs and much like handpicking nits out of human heads, a natural way to take lice out of dogs is to do the same. While it may be a bit more tedious and involve a bit more work (and repetition) on your part, it’s the only chemical-free way to remove dog lice. A basic comb like this can help bring the adults and some eggs to the surface, but know you’ll need to repeat the search regularly for about a month.