Treating Dog Lice

Table of Contents

Lice Details | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Q&A


"Pediculosis, also known as dog lice, are small flightless external parasites or insects which infest and live on the hair of the subject/pet. They are not common in dogs.

There are two types of lice, i.e. biting or chewing lice and blood sucking lice. Both can infest dogs and cause discomfort, skin irritation and other related integumentary (related to skin) symptoms. These are host specific, i.e. cannot be transmitted to animals other than dogs, and are not harmful to people. Canine lice cause the coat to feel scruffy and dry, and cause symptoms such as hair loss and severe itching. In cases of severe infestation, blood sucking canine lice can cause anemia, especially in puppies.

Diagnosis is based on clinical examination, where dog lice can be isolated from the hair, and eggs can be examined under microscope. Getting rid of dog lice is accomplished with sprays, dips and bathes. Spraying disinfectants and anti-lice preparations in the dog’s environment and hygienic measures prevents repeated lice infestations."

Overview: Types of Dog Lice

Lice are flightless ecto-parasites (external parasites), which infest domestic animals and humans. These are host specific parasites, which depend upon the skin debris to feed to that feed by sucking blood from the skin. Based on the feeding pattern, canine lice are divided in to two different types; biting or chewing lice. The blood sucking lice are part of the Mallophaga order while chewing lice belong to the Anoplura order. Particularly in dogs, Trichodectes canis and Heterodoxus spiniger are two common chewing or biting species of lice, while Linognathus setosus is the only blood sucking specie of lice, which infests pet dogs and causes clinical symptoms.

Life Cycle and Transmission of Lice

Lice are strictly host specific, i.e. they cannot fly, and cause no problems for accidental hosts, such as on cats or humans etc. These are transmitted by direct, physical contact only and only adult or advance larval stages of canine lice can be transmitted from one dog to another. These are wingless parasites, therefore they cannot fly and physical contact is necessary for their transmission. Common places/means of transmission are parks, walking trails, beddings and grooming instruments.

Lice Symptoms

Lice cause discomfort to the infested dog. The dog’s coat will appear dry, scruffy and dull. Nits or eggs are sometimes mistaken for dandruff, and appear like white specks of sand. Itching and severe irritation are other notable signs, which cause stress and discomfort. This stress, discomfort and dry skin can trigger other underlying disorders, such as secondary microbial skin infections. Symptoms usually appear on the head and ears as well as the rear, shoulders and neck.

Close-up of Cat Lice and Nits on Cat Hair
Lice and Nits on Cat Hair
Source: Washington State University

Blood sucking dog lice may cause anemia if they infest a dog in greater numbers; puppies are particularly more prone to anemia, since they have a less developed immune system and the skin is relatively immature. Clinically, a dog with a lice infestation appears stressed, dull and with severely dry and scruffy coat. Canine lice otherwise do not cause much damage to the health of your dog.

Canine Lice Diagnosis

Diagnosis is purely based upon clinical examination and hygienic history. Adult lice can be isolated from the base of the dog hairs, while eggs are usually glued with the hairs, which is why the hair can feel greasy. If the veterinarian needs to confirm the type of dog lice, adult lice and/or eggs may be examined under microscope.

Dog Lice Treatment

Dog lice treatment or management of an infestation can be done with the help of sprays, dips, bathes and thorough cleaning of the skin. Therapeutic elimination is necessary for proper treatment and several anti-parasitic drugs can be used for purpose.

These therapeutic agents, such as pyrethrins, permethrin , lindane, rotenone, methoxychlor, diazinon, malathion, or coumaphos are commercially available in different formulations such as sprays, lotions, dips, dust and shampoos, with various therapeutic levels. Application of anti-paraistic/anti-lice preparation requires repeated doses in 10 – 14 days, because all canine lice nits are usually not killed in single application.

A veterinarian should prescribe anti-parasitic drugs, and owners should follow the instructions of the veterinarian and before application clearly read the instructions on the label. One over the counter option is BioSpot Pyrethrins Dip for Dogs.

Additionally, regular baths, grooming and administration of supportive natural remedies such as Skin and Coat Tonic and Immunity and Liver Support can surely help in reducing the chance of a canine lice infestation.

Clearing the environment and surroundings with the help of different anti-parasitic sprays and washing the bedding and belongings of pets can help in preventing canine lice infestation and transmission.

Products such as Frontline Plus will control dog lice as well as other parasites.



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