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Lice and Dogs 101

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Monday, May 5, 2014
Posted April 01, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

In the last few weeks I have seen two different television family sitcoms centered on the consequences of having a small child come home from school infested with lice. It seems to be a popular comedic topic, and it’s not uncommon, but the reality is not so funny.

Lice facts
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Reliable data on how many people get head lice each year in the United States is not available; however, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the U.S. among children 3 to 11 years of age.” On television and in reality, lice spread primarily through contact with an already infected individual, although less commonly, transmission can occur via fomites or objects that have been in recent contact with an infected individual (beddings, combs, brushes, etc.) Since animals get lice too, what does this all mean to you and your pet?

The good news is that lice are very host specific. That means that dog and cat lice are fairly restricted parasites. They are not shared between species and are not transmitted from pets to people. If your child has lice you need not look to your dog or cat as the source, and if your pet has lice you do not need to worry about your family members ending up infected too.

What are lice?
Lice are very small insects that are about the same size as fleas but are flattened top to bottom like a pancake while fleas are flat side to side. Lice do not have wings so they cannot fly nor can they jump around like fleas. There are two different types of lice based on the way that they feed: One group chews dead skin cells and other debris, the other group sucks blood, fluids or body oils.

LiceWhat diseases can lice cause?
Certainly lice can be extremely irritating--causing the host dog, cat (or person) to be very agitated and itchy, but usually infested animals don’t react to the lice at all. In those animals that do suffer reactions, the response tends to be intense scratching or chewing causing hair loss and skin irritations. Irritation can ultimately lead to secondary bacterial infections in the traumatized skin and needs to be treated appropriately with anti-inflammatory medications and/or antibiotics. However, unlike other blood-sucking insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, lice do not transmit serious

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.