There are few episodes in life worse than head lice. Not only do you have to treat the person affected by these awful-looking blood suckers, but the entire home – from blankets to upholstery – has to be handled effectively. For a household with animals, this can begin to feel absolutely overwhelming.
The good news is that head lice (the ones that thrive on human blood) don’t bug animals. However, pets get lice of a different kind, as well as other parasites that are definitely problematic.
Different Strokes, Different Parasites
As gross as it may be, there are numerous kinds of lice that all have different meal preferences. Head lice, the type known to send shockwaves through elementary schools, can only live on people. While this means parents have a great deal to worry about, they don’t have to quarantine or treat the animals sharing the house.
That Doesn’t Mean…
That’s a relief, right? Well, just because pets cannot get lice from us, pets get lice of their own. As parasitic pests, species-specific lice create a very itchy, uncomfortable situation for a domestic animal. The creepy-crawly feeling can really drive a cat or dog up the wall in the short-term, but if dealt with promptly, long-term problems are uncommon.
Like head lice, pets get lice from other animals. It doesn’t necessarily occur in confined, squalor environments. Instead, pets get lice while attending classes together, daycares, dog parks, and so forth. The lice move from one pet’s body to another via close contact.
Lice can live out the entire life cycle while on a single animal. Equipped with six powerful legs and six sets of claws, they have the ability to cling to the hair shafts, even when a pet is scratching or biting at them. They lay their eggs, also called “nits”, on the hair shafts. They hatch into nymphs, molt a few times, and then mature into adults, all within 2-4 weeks.
When pets get lice, they suffer loads of itching, discomfort, anxiety, stress, and exhaustion. Sometimes, pets can become anemic from blood loss. Tapeworms can also be a fear, as well as rare diseases spread by these parasites.
If you first notice intermittent scratching, inspect your pet’s coat. Lice look different than fleas; they aren’t dark or jumpy. Instead, lice are slow-moving, tan or brownish in color, and the nits, while hard to see, create a sort of dandruff when they hatch.
When Pets Get Lice
Just as head lice can’t affect your pet, lice infestations on pets will not spread to you or your family.
We recommend calling us before moving ahead with your own lice treatments. There are shampoos, topical treatments, and insecticides that can break the life cycle of lice on pets, but some products, such as those containing permethrin, aren’t a good fit for some. Please reach out to our veterinarians and staff prior to applying human products as a lice treatment for your pet.