First, the good news: you cannot get lice from your dog and conversely, your dog cannot get lice from you. It seems that lice are very much a species-specific parasite that thrives only on the blood of their species of preference.
This being said, there is also some bad news in that an infestation of lice, or pediculosis, can be a very painful and unpleasant experience for both you and your four-legged friend. The bites will cause itching, pain, inflammation of the bite site, and in some instances, loss of hair.
At the same time, being bitten by lice can also lead to several more serious health problems, making it important for you to know how to recognize these fearsome little pests and how to eliminate them as quickly as possible if you find them on your dog.
Can Dogs Get Lice?
Your dog can get lice, just not the same ones your kids seem to bring home from school each year. While they can be annoying and lead to serious medical conditions, in most cases, they are easy to get rid of and do no lasting damage.
Does My Dog Have Lice?
While parasites such as fleas and ticks tend to travel well, lice do not, as the only way they move around is through physical contact. This can be from one dog to another or from sharing things like bedding or grooming tools.
The most common sign that your dog might have lice is the sudden onset of intense scratching. In most cases, a physical examination of the area will reveal the presence of adult lice as they are big enough to see with the naked eye. They tend to range from tan to yellow in color and measure approximately 3 millimeters in length.
Dry, matted, or rough coat
Loss of hair, especially around the neck, ears, groin, shoulders, and rectal area
Small bites or wounds that may be infected
Tapeworms and other forms of bacteria or parasites that can be spread by the lice
Lice are not the most mobile of parasites, but they can transfer from one host to another. Most will die within a few days if they do not maintain contact with their host. They must have direct contact with another animal in order for them to spread. The most common places for lice are anywhere that dogs tend to congregate such as kennels, grooming stores, dog parks, and dog shows.
Unlike many other parasites, diagnosing lice in dogs is relatively simple since adult lice are visible to the naked eye. You, your groomer or vet should be able to see the lice as they tend to congregate in certain areas such as around the ears, on the neck, around your dog's genitals and anus, and other areas of his skin. You may also be able to see lice eggs or "nits" on individual hair shafts. Lice love moisture, which is why you are likely to find them in these areas or anywhere that your dog has a skin abrasion.
For more information on canine lice visit our guide to Lice in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Lice?
There are several recommended treatments for lice available over-the-counter or from your vet.
Before applying any type of lice treatment, you should give your dog a bath using a good quality canine shampoo, and always talk to your vet before starting your dog on any form of medication. The initial treatment will kill adults, but you will need to repeat the process in a couple of weeks to kill any lice that have hatched, as the treatment does not affect the eggs.
Make sure you wash and dry your dog's toys, bedding, brushes, and any clothing at the same time as you are treating your dog (just like you have to do when the kids come home with head lice). You may also want to use a flea comb to remove eggs and live and dead lice, and any matted hair should be cut off. It might take several treatments to completely eradicate the lice.
If you find out your dog has lice, they should be quarantined away from other dogs until they have been successfully treated. There are two kinds of canine lice, those that bite and those that suck. If your dog has been infested with sucking lice, the vet may recommend you give the dog a supplement containing iron, vitamins, and minerals to combat any risk of anemia.
If you would like to learn more about canine lice and read about the experiences of others, visit Lice in Dogs.
How Are Lice Similar in Dogs and Humans?
There are a few ways in which the signs and symptoms of lice in dogs and humans are similar. These include:
They both do not travel well and must move directly from host to host
Both types of lice have a very short lifespan
Both will bite and cause intense itching
Both lay their eggs on the host
How Are Lice Different in Dogs and Humans?
At the same time, there are several ways in which the two forms of lice differ. These include:
The lice that affect humans and dogs are not the same species
Lice cannot move from human to dog or from dog to human
In most cases, lice do not cause hair loss in humans unless mom cuts a child's hair to make removing the nits easier
You cannot use the same medications to treat lice on humans, or cats for that matter, that you use to treat your dog
You just got back from a week-long trip to Europe, during which your pup spent his own vacation time hanging out with his friends at the local boarding kennel. Within a couple of days, you notice he seems to be scratching far more than usual and with more fervor.
Upon close examination, he seems to have "walking dandruff" moving around on his head, neck, and shoulders. Looking a little closer you see dozens of tiny red bites that look painful and angry. Your dog has come home from his stay in the kennel with a bad case of lice.
You give him a bath and then, after talking to your vet, apply the recommended treatment and go over his hair with a flea comb to remove any nits. Your vet tells you to repeat this process again in two weeks and at a month. If you have followed these instructions and cleaned his bed, toys, and clothing, your dog will make a full recovery without any serious side effects beyond smelling nicer.