You may, as a child, have been familiar with head lice, but can dogs get lice? or How do dogs get lice? Find out how lice on dogs are treated and prevented to keep your pooch itch-free.
Your dog’s scratching might be more than just a seasonal itch. You may be familiar with head lice in humans, but can dogs get lice too? Yep! Lices in dogs are slightly different from the type of lice found in humans, but the result is relatively the same: itchiness and discomfort.
What are Dog Lice?
Lice are tiny flightless insects that live, also called a louse. They are only about 2-4 mm in size, so they are very small but still visible to the naked eye. Typically tan or brown, sucking lice are often mistaken for small fleas, but they are a bit tougher to dispose of than fleas.
Louses attach themselves to an animal's hair, fur, or feathers. They have hooked claws that allow them to hook into the follicle of the fur or hair, making it very difficult to detach them.
There are a couple of types of dog lice. Both kinds of sucking lice cause itchiness and discomfort that will increase if the species of lice are not treated.
The first is called a chewing louse. Though there are two species of chewing lice for dogs, one is rarely seen outside of tropical regions, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see them often in Canada, but they may be found in warmer and more humid parts of the US. The species of dog lice eggs are found worldwide, and the most likely type of sucking lice in Canada is called Trichodectes canis.
Chewing lice typically live on their host for up to 30 days by feeding on the host’s dead skin cells and skin secretions. They can feed and reproduce quickly in such a fertile environment.
The second and slightly more intimidating type of adult lice is called the sucking louse infestation. This louse feeds on the blood of the host. Sucking lice bite the skin, burrowing their pincher-like mouths into the skin debris. Their scientific name is Linognathus setosus.
These little vampires damage the dead skin debris more quickly than chewing lice, so unchecked infestations can quickly cause larger issues. Fortunately, this type of louse is also very uncommon in Canada. They require a more tropical climate to thrive.
Dog Lice Life Cycle
Like fleas, types of lice have three life stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults. Eggs, also called nits, are layed and glued to the base of the hair follicle, making them difficult to detach. Species of lice eggs are lighter in colour, often white or yellow, so they are usually mistaken for dandruff. Best dog lice treatment?
In about a week, the eggs will hatch into nymphs. Nymphs are very small and much harder to spot than full-grown adults. You might not notice them at this stage if it weren’t for your dog’s reaction to this itch-causing pest.
It will take another week or two before the nymphs reach adult maturity. At this point, they are ready to reproduce and start laying their eggs. Types of lice can lay eggs daily, which means infestations that go untreated can cause an exceedingly uncomfortable and unpleasant situation for your dog.
Lice on Dogs VS Fleas: What’s the Difference
Both of these pests can opportunistically plant themselves on your dog and wreak havoc in similar ways. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but there are noticeable differences. Telling these two apart can help you choose the correct treatment and help prevent these pests from returning. Dog lice treatment home remedy?
There are 3 main behaviours and attributes we can look at to help differentiate between fleas and lice.
Adult fleas and lice are similar in size and colour, so at a glance, they can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Eggs, on the other hand, are different in both appearance and behaviour.
Flea eggs are usually pale in colour and very small, though they can be spotted in clusters a little easier. However, the main reason flea eggs aren’t typically noticed is that they are not attached to your dog, so they usually end up falling off and completing their development in surrounding carpets or bedding.
Types of lice eggs, on the other hand, are often white or yellowish. Even though they are no bigger than flea eggs, their brighter colour makes them a little easier to spot. Beyond colour, species of lice eggs are glued to individual strands of fur after they are layed so that these eggs will stay firmly planted on your dog.
2. Pest Debris
With any pest infestation, you are more likely to notice evidence of the bugs before you see the bugs themselves. This is another way to tell fleas and suck lice apart.
Fleas leave behind debris - poop, to be precise. So what you’ll likely notice is little black peppery specs called flea dirt. Lice do not leave the same waste product behind, so the first visual cue is their eggs.
Another big difference between the two pests is how they move around your dog’s body, or in the case of sucking lice, don’t move. Lice are much less mobile than fleas because they must stay on the host to complete their life cycle.
Fleas don’t need to confine themselves to your dog, which is why treating fleas involves treating your house as well. Though flightless like puppy lice, fleas can jump, making it easier for them to spread out faster than lice.
How Did Your Dog Get Lice?
Lice spread from host to host and are usually species-specific, meaning your dog likely got lice from another dog. Chewing lice thrive in unhealthy environments, meaning that adult lice usually attack weakened, sick, old, or dirty dogs.
Chewing lice are more common in stray dogs, dogs living in poor conditions, or those with compromised immune systems. The skin in all of these situations will have the most debris and secretions to feed the sucking lice. How to dispose of lice on dogs?
Can Dogs Get Lice From Humans
As we stated earlier, most lice are species-specific, meaning the type of adult lice that infest dogs and attach themselves to dogs is a different species than feast on humans. Fortunately, this means that if you or your kids get head lice, you don’t have to worry about passing it to your pooch or vice versa.
Additionally, you don’t need to worry about your dog bed getting adult lice from any animals outside the Trichodectes canis genus, which means canines. Common dog lice infect wolves, coyotes, and foxes in North America but won’t go after cats, rodents, or birds.
This also means that the treatments for the two are different. So please, don’t use lice shampoo for humans on your dog, as some of the ingredients could be harmful or toxic.
How to Tell If Your Dog Has Lice
Identifying lice is the first step in treatment. Because some of the symptoms of dog lice are similar to other pests and skin conditions, pet lice are often misidentified. It’s important to identify lice symptoms in dogs, but you also need to know what lice look like at each stage to help you spot these pesky bugs in the act.
Symptoms of Lice on Dogs
Like fleas and ticks, adult lice irritate your dog’s skin and coat, so you will often notice these pests' symptoms before you see them themselves. Here are a few things that may result from a dog lice infestation:
Dry, Cull Coat
Because common chewing lice feed on skin cells and other skin secretions, they can leave your dog’s skin and coat feeling dry and scruffy. In addition, the longer the lice feast on your dog’s secretions, the more depleted they will leave your dog’s natural oils that condition his skin and coat.
It's natural for dogs to scratch, but excessive scratching is the first sign that a pest may live on your dog. Itchiness is a common symptom of many skin and coats, pests, and even allergies or digestive problems. If your dog is itchier than normal, then it’s a good idea to do a physical examination with a flea comb before trying more general skin and coat solutions.
Being itchy all the time would drive you a little nutty too. If your dog is dealing with lice, he might be a little more grumpy, restless, or anxious. These symptoms are often missed, but when combined with other symptoms, they could be a good indicator that your dog has some unwanted guests.
Lice eggs are commonly mistaken for dandruff, which is why they often get mistreated, allowing the problem to get worse. Even though nits are much smaller than full-grown lice, they are still visible. You might see what looks like white sand sprinkled on your dog’s fur.
One easy way to see if you are looking at dandruff or lice is to brush them out with a flea comb. If the white specs stay put, then they are likely lice eggs. If they come out with the comb, it’s more likely dandruff.
Though you may see bald patches or fur thinning on dogs with lice, the lice themselves are not responsible, but rather your dog’s scratching and excessive grooming equipment to try to curb the itch and discomfort. Bald patches indicate that your dog is focusing on an area that is causing discomfort, which means it’s best to start looking for lice in the surrounding hair.
Another secondary symptom of lice is your dog’s scratching, licking, and biting, which can lead to open sores that get infected. These are called hot spots. They are typically small circular rashes that are red, inflamed, and sometimes have pus or scabs. Hot spots should be treated separately from the lice as they won’t go away after the lice are eliminated.
Much like other pests, lice can carry tapeworms that can transfer to your pet. This happens when your pet ingests the host - in this case, lice - and the tapeworm sets up shop in your dog’s digestive system.
Dog Lice Treatment
All right, so you spotted the signs and found irrefutable evidence of lice on your dog. So what can you do to dispose of these pesky intruders? Indeed, lice aren’t the most common pest in dogs, but just like any other infestation, it’s best to dispose of the bugs as quickly as possible.
What Kills Dog Lice
The good news is that treating lice in dogs is not dissimilar to treating fleas or ticks. Topical treatments that kill fleas or inhibit egg development also work for lice.
Insecticides used in flea comb and tick treatments will target the pest’s nervous system, killing both adolescent and adult fleas, ticks, and other invasive pests quickly and efficiently. Active ingredients to look for include:
Take note - Most insecticides are safe to use externally and in small doses, but they can be dangerous if used improperly. Permethrin is a synthetic and concentrated form of pyrethrin and is not recommended for cats.
This means that you should be cautious of the type of treatment you use on your dog if you also have a cat in your home. Cats tend to groom their doggy friends, so even if you only use the dog pest treatment on your dog, it is possible that your cat could be exposed.
The other half of flea and tick treatments are growth inhibitors. These ingredients will stop the eggs from developing and hatching. Without growth inhibitors, flea and tick medications will only be a temporary reprieve, and the infestation and discomfort will come back once the eggs hatch. Here are a few ingredients you might see.
Does Dog Shampoo Eliminate Dog Lice
Bathing your dog may knock a few of the lice loose but may not be a permanent solution to your dog’s lice problem. Many medicated shampoos can help reduce the itch temporarily, but regular dog shampoo will be ineffective without an insecticide or other pest-killing ingredient.
A good flea shampoo and tick shampoo, like this one from Zodiac, will contain the same or similar ingredients to the topical treatments, so a quick flea bath can help dispose of lice. However, flea shampoo often requires more than one treatment to guarantee that all lice and eggs have been eliminated.
Dog Lice Treatment Home Remedies
Sometimes all the chemicals can seem scary, especially if you have a multiple-pet household and are concerned about cross-contamination. The good news is that natural alternatives can help dispose of lice on dogs.
Keep in mind, like most natural alternatives, these options may not work as effectively as some of the harsher chemical options. This doesn’t mean they won’t work; it just means you need to be more diligent in your treatment to ensure you eliminate the infestations.
Here are two products that you can use to delouse your itchy doggo naturally:
This white powder can be applied topically to your pet to kill hatched lice. The fine white powder is silky in texture to you and your dog, but to a 2mm bug, diatomaceous earth is sharp enough to puncture the outer layer of the lice’s body, which leaves them unable to retain moisture. In time, they dehydrate and die off.
This is a very safe way to dispose of infestations, but this natural remedy does have its downsides. First, diatomaceous earth can’t kill eggs, so you must reapply the powder to eliminate lice as they hatch. Additionally, the lice have to come in direct contact with the powder, so you have to thoroughly coat your dog to ensure that you don’t miss lice that infest dogs may be hiding in your dog’s nooks and crannies.
Lastly, dusting your dog in powder is messy. Not only will your dog be dusty, but he’ll likely leave a trail in your home. The powder will need to be reapplied after getting wet too.
Diatomaceous earth has many applications. Find out more about Diatomaceous Earth for Dogs.
Do we love coconut oil, but can it really dispose of lice? The answer is a solid probably. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which has antiparasitic properties that can be effective against lice and fleas. Coconut oil can be applied topically to deal with hatched fleas and help soothe itchy skin and irritation.
Its antibacterial properties can also effectively treat hot spots or sores resulting from your dog’s excessive scratching, licking, and biting. Best of all, coconut oil is safe to ingest, so you don’t have to be concerned about your dog licking areas where coconut oil is applied.
According to a study done on human head lice, coconut oil was 80% effective at killing the lice. It had the highest success rates of any natural treatments.
Check out Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs for more info about using coconut to protect your dog.
How to Prevent Dog Lice
Like any pest, prevention is always easier than treatment. Fortunately, lice are not super common in domesticated dogs. Still, it’s important to know what steps you can take to limit your dog’s exposure and make his body an undesirable environment for lice infestations to attach themselves.
Keeping your dog healthy and clean is the first and most important factor in preventing lice infestations. Dogs living in filthy environments, like strays and sick dogs, are the most likely to attract lice.
Keep your pet healthy by feeding a high-quality diet and having regular vet checks done. If your dog is showing any signs of illness, you should contact your vet immediately.
Additionally, because lice infestations pass from canine to canine, keeping your dog from interacting with strays or wildlife that may be carrying these pests is best.
Flea and Tick Treatments for Dog Lice
One of the most effective lice-repellant methods for dogs is the same treatment used to kill pests. These treatments are usually both pest killers and prevention methods when used properly. Here are some of our top flea and tick treatments that can help to prevent lice and other pest infestations.
Each dose of these products provides protection for one month at a time, allowing you to go about your daily activities knowing that your dog is protected from any pests that may be lurking.
Natural Lice Repellant for Dogs
Other preventative methods involve using pest-repelling ingredients. Bug repellents for humans can be very harmful to dogs, so stick to bug repellants designed for dogs or make your own using natural pest-repellant ingredients.
These won’t necessarily kill lice or other pests, but they will make the environment of your dog’s body less desirable and reduce the risk of infestation. Here are a few insects that live repelling ingredients that can help tell lice to buzz off:
- Tea Tree Oil
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the common signs that my dog has lice?
Common signs of lice on dogs include excessive itching, scratching, and visible lice eggs (nits) or adult lice in the fur.
Can dogs get lice from humans, or vice versa?
Dogs typically have their species-specific lice, so human lice usually don't infest dogs and vice versa.
How can I safely delouse my dog at home?
Use a specialized dog lice shampoo or treatment. Thoroughly comb through your dog's fur to remove dead lice and nits.
Should I treat my entire home for lice if my dog has them?
Lice on dogs are species-specific and cannot infest your home or other pets.
Can lice on dogs be harmful to humans?
Dog lice are not known to infest humans. However, handling an infected dog can be uncomfortable due to the risk of lice crawling on you.
When should I consult a veterinarian for lice treatment?
If your dog's lice infestation is severe, persistent, or not responding to over-the-counter treatments, consult with your dog's veterinarian.