Lice! Just the thought of them makes one’s skin crawl! For those that have never crossed paths with them, lice are tiny, little, parasites that scurry across your skin, feeding on your blood and laying their eggs, called nits, on hair shafts-- or if you happen to be a bird, feather shafts. The scourge of grade school, kennels and chicken coops alike, lice can occur in humans, dogs, chickens, and other animals, however, fortunately, lice seem to be species specific, so cats, dogs, humans, and chickens do not share each other's lice infestations. Chickens are regularly infested with lice and another similar parasite, red mites.
Can Dogs Get Lice From Chickens?
Lice and mites from chickens can not live off human or dog blood, so do not infest dogs or people in the same way they do chickens. However, they can drop off their avian host and come into contact with people or dogs, reside temporarily, biting and causing itching and general unpleasantness for their temporary mammalian vehicle. This is especially true of chicken mites, or red mites, who prefer an avian host but will hitch a ride on a mammalian host if a feathered friend is not available.
So while dogs do not get chicken lice, in that they do not become a permanently infested host, they can be affected by chicken mites temporarily, as they hitch a ride. This can result in chicken mites being transported onto you or into your home, where they can bite you and your family members, including the furry ones.
Does My Dog Have Lice?
Chicken lice are species-specific and require an avian host to thrive. Rarely are chicken lice found on a mammal, however chicken mites, or red mites are more likely to affect mammals, although they can not live out their life cycle on a fur bearing host. Chicken mites, Dermanyssus gallinae, are common amongst chickens, and these blood suckinng arachnids, if they are transferred to your dog, or another mammal, will bite, and attempt to feed.
Chicken mites are small (1 mm in length), spider like critters. Before feeding they are brown or gray, but after feeding on their blood meal they are red. They do not live on animals, but in chicken coops, where they emerge at night to feed on their feathery victims. Chickens should be checked regularly for signs of itchiness, scratching and bare patches that might indicate mite infestation, and treated along with the chicken coop before mites have a chance to spread to your canine companion and yourself. Chicken mites can also live on wild birds that can transfer them in your yard, or onto your home when they nest there. If their nests become infested, so can the surrounding environment-- including your home. Your yard and home can be infested long after the avian host has flown the coop, so to speak. With no avian victim available, these mites will turn to your dog for a meal!
Symptoms of chicken mite bites include:
Irritated, itchy skin
The good news is that chicken mites and lice do not tend to carry any disease that affects humans and they can be extricated from their mammalian host with medications. Lice are much less likely to transfer from an avian host to a mammalian one than mites, and chicken lice are not usually an issue for dogs, although mites can be.
Dogs are susceptible, however, to their own species-specific lice that chew on their skin and suck blood, causing skin irritation, itching and, if severe enough, anemia in their canine host.
Symptoms of canine lice include:
Scratching, rubbing or biting skin
Red irritated skin
The causes of lice in canines is Trichodectes canis or chewing louse, which feeds on dead skin, or Linognathus setosus, sucking louse, which feeds on your dog's blood. They are transmitted between dogs, NOT CHICKENS, and are often transmitted in kennels and dog parks.
For more information on the type of lice that infest dogs see our guide to Lice in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Lice?
If your dog has an infestation of canine lice, your veterinarian can prescribe several treatments to kill and remove lice and their nits, or eggs, which cling to hair shafts. Topical treatments, shampoos, powders, dips and oral medication can all be used to kill lice. The treatment may need to be repeated when the next generation hatches out. Manual removal of nits is especially effective in preventing reinfestation. Shaving your dog, to ensure topical treatments get down to the skin, will also help with removal of lice. Keep your dog away from other dogs when they are infested with lice. All dogs in the home will need to be treated, and bedding washed thoroughly. Vacuuming of your home and cleanup of debris in the yard that may harbor lice is also recommended. You can treat your dog monthly to prevent recurrence if they live in an area where they are likely to be exposed regularly to other dogs with lice.
If mites from chickens are making themselves unwelcome guests on your dog, or in your home, removing the source will usually resolve the situation. Vacuuming, and freezing the vacuum bag to kill mites and prevent them from crawling out of the bag, may be necessary if they are in your home. Remove nests that may be infested or treat chickens and chicken coops to eradicate the curse of chicken mites. Many songbirds are protected, so before removing nests you should identify the species and determine whether they can be removed or whether you need to wait until the nest is abandoned. You can spray insecticide around points of entry to your home such as doors and windows. Topical pesticides on your dog will kill chicken mites present and monthly lice treatments will usually discourage lice or mites of any kind from harassing your dog.
How are Lice Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
Lice are annoying parasites for any host.
Cats, dogs, chickens or people can all get their own types of lice, which are tiny creatures that feed on dead skin and sometimes blood.
Topically applied pesticides usually kill adults, but nits need to be either manually removed, or treatment repeated to eradicate the next generation.
Irritated skin, scratching, and secondary infections are typical symptoms in lice hosts regardless of species.
How are Lice Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
Lice are species-specific, and dog, cat, chicken, and human lice do not infest each other, although they may temporarily become displaced onto a non-species-specific host and crawl or bite. Chicken mites are similar to lice and may bite other animals including humans and dogs.
A family of pigeons decided to move into the suburban yard of a family and their pet dog. The pigeons were infested with chicken mites, which soon were rampant at the nesting site in the eaves of the suburban home. Gradually the mites made their way into the home where they began to bite the family's 8-year old daughter, who slept in the bedroom nearest the nesting pigeons, along with their Springer Spaniel, who suffered the brunt of the annoying pests. The veterinarian identified the pests under a microscope after harvesting them from the Spaniel, who was initially thought to have dog lice, but turned out to have chicken mites from the pigeons! Topical insecticide was applied to the dog, the nest was removed, and the pigeons evicted. The little girl’s room and all bedding were thoroughly cleaned, and an insecticide sprayed around the old nesting site and the bedroom window. The process had to be repeated a few times, but eventually the little girl, home, and spaniel were chicken mite-free.