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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Lice of Dogs

By Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison ; Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, DACVD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine ; William W. Hawkins, BS, DVM ; Thomas R. Klei, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Advanced Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine and Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station, Louisiana State University ; John E. Lloyd, BS, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Wyoming ; Bernard Mignon, DVM, PhD, DEVPC, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, University of Liège ; Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD ; David Stiller, MS, PhD, Research Entomologist, Animal Disease Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho ; Patricia A. Talcott, MS, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Holm Research Center, University of Idaho ; Alice E. Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, Director;Director, Animal Oncology Consultation Service;Pawspice ; Stephen D. White, DVM, DACVD, Professor and Chief of Service, Dermatology, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis ; Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD

Lice are small, flightless insects that live in the hair or feathers of animals and people. There are 2 basic types of lice. Biting or chewing lice (order Mallophaga) infest both birds and mammals. They feed mostly on skin debris and the secretions of their hosts. Blood-sucking lice (order Anoplura) are skin parasites of mammals only. Typically, lice are species specific; that is, they do not readily transfer from one animal species to another.

Biting or chewing louse (order Mallophaga) and blood-sucking louse (order Anoplura).

Female lice glue their eggs, called nits, to the hairs of the host near the skin. Ordinary shampooing and washing will not dislodge the nits. Nits are pale, translucent, and almost oval in shape. Once the nits hatch, the lice undergo a nymphal stage before reaching adulthood. The immature nymphs look very much like adult lice, only smaller. It takes about 3 to 4 weeks for most lice to go from nit to reproductively capable adult, although this period varies with the species.

Dogs can be infested with 2 species of lice, Linognathus setosus (the dog sucking louse) and Heterodoxus spiniger (the biting louse). Dogs in poor health can become heavily infested. The biting louse is rare in North America. It can serve as an intermediate host for intestinal tapeworms.

The first signs that your dog may have lice include scratching, biting, and rubbing of infested areas. A dog with lice will have a rough, dry coat. If the lice are abundant, the hair might also be matted. Sucking lice cause small wounds that can become infected. Usually, the diagnosis is made by seeing lice on the infested pet. Parting the hair often reveals the lice. Chewing lice are active and can be seen moving through the hair. Sucking lice usually move more slowly. They are often found with their mouth-parts embedded in the skin.

Using a fine-toothed comb to dislodge nits is a tedious process that will not kill lice that have hatched. Dogs, cats, and other pets are usually treated with dips, washes, sprays, or dusts that kill lice. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate control product for your pet and provide directions for its use.

Lice dropped or pulled from the host die in a few days, but eggs may continue to hatch over 2 to 3 weeks. Thus, lice control treatments should be repeated 7 to 10 days after the first treatment (See also Drugs Used to Treat Skin Disorders : Antiparasitic Drugs). Careful inspection of your pet’s coat should be continued daily for at least 2 weeks after you see the last louse. Be sure to carefully collect any lice (dead or alive) removed from your pet and dispose of them promptly in a sealed container (such as a zip-closure plastic bag).

In severe louse infestations, the dog may damage its skin by scratching. Bacterial infections and scratch wounds are common. If these conditions are present, your veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic or other medication.

In addition to killing the lice on your pet, you will want to be sure that lice are not infesting your dog’s bedding, collar, grooming tools (including bushes or combs), and other similar objects in your dog’s environment. Careful cleaning and inspection of these objects can help provide your pet with continued relief from the irritation caused by lice.

The lice that infest dogs, cats, and other pets are not normally attracted to humans. Therefore, while care in dealing with the lice infecting your pet is recommended, owners should understand that people rarely get lice from their pets.

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