Can Dogs Get Head Lice?

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If there's one thing guaranteed to make you itch, it's getting a letter from school saying there's been an outbreak of lice in your child's class. (Are you scratching yet?)

The human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, is a critter that we'd rather live without. It is spread by direct contact, head to head, and feeds off human blood. As they go about their business of feeding, pooping, and reproducing, they cause all manner of itchiness to their host, and it's this itch that usually alerts us to the problem.


But can the human head louse infect fur-family, and indeed, could your dog be responsible for the outbreak in the first place?

Can Dogs Get Head Lice?

NO!

Phew! At least that's one less thing to worry about.

The clue is in the name: Pediculus humanus capitis. You see, the human head louse is species specific (or fussy who it feeds on) and won't transfer between people and dogs, or vice versa.

However, dogs do get their own species of lice; these go by the names of Linognathus, Trichodectes, and Heterodoxus. So if it looks like a louse, itches like a louse, but happens to be on the dog, then know this isn't a head louse but a doggy-loving louse.  

Does My Dog Have Lice?

Signs of lice infections in dogs include:

  • Itchiness and scratching

  • Hair loss secondary to scratching

  • A coat in poor condition, often soiled and matted.

  • Anemia, in severe cases, due to blood loss.

  • Fine gray speckles on the hair shafts (the louse itself)

  • Glistening white specks glued to the hairs (egg cases)

However, as the astute amongst you will have spotted, what we're describing here is a louse infection, rather than a head louse infection (which dogs don't get!)

Your vet can easily diagnosis a louse infection by combining the dog's fur and placing a slide of the resulting dander under the microscope. There these ugly critters will be revealed in all their gory glory.
 

For more detailed information check out: Lice in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog's Head Lice?

Lice are easily treated by using a number of insecticidal products that are effective at killing lice. One of the most popular products (it's available without a prescription) is fipronil spray. Simply follow the directions on the label and spritz your dog to get rid of those lousy guests.

Lice don't live long off their host, but even so, it's a good idea to wash the dog's bedding and vacuum the house...it will make you feel better if nothing else!

In addition, regular parasite control is a good idea. Plus, lice are more likely to be found on dogs that live in unhygienic conditions. Thus, if you have an outdoor dog, check the state of their kennel because it might be overdue a clean out.

How Are Lice Similar in Dogs and Humans?

What's in a name?  Not a lot!

The symptoms of an infestation of lice are the same whatever the species. Although there's something about even the thought of lice crawling over a pet (or your own hair) that starts you scratching.

How Are Lice Different in Dogs and Humans?

What's in a name? A big difference!

Whilst the symptoms are the same, the implications are very different. Before you consider rehoming the dog, know that it's not possible for your pooch to be the cause of an outbreak of head lice that's now swept through the whole school.

 

The biggest difference is that dogs have their own species of lice, just as people do. So your kids won't infect the dog, and the dog won't infect the child. They can sit and scratch together, safe in the knowledge that each will stick with their own bugs. What a comforting thought that is!

Case Study

Miss X had purchased a puppy from a dubious breeder. The pup was in poor condition but she felt sorry for the youngster and bought it anyway. She took the puppy for a vet checkup. To her horror not only was the pup rife with lice, but he was anemic to boot.

The pup had been raised in unsanitary conditions and acquired a severe lice infection as a result. The vet sprayed the pup with fipronil and gave him a dewormer (as he was also likely to have worms, given the poor start in life). With the lice gone and no longer sucking blood, within a few weeks the pup had generated more red blood cells and went on to make a full recovery.