Lice are not dangerous for your dog, but they can be very unpleasant due to itching and skin inflammation. Therefore, it is good to know how to recognize a lice infestation in your dog and what you can do to get rid of the annoying pests quickly.
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Lice or Fleas: How do these Parasites Differ in Appearance?
Basically, lice only occur in dogs but not in cats. Fleas, on the other hand, can also occur in cats. Both lice and fleas belong to the so-called ectoparasites that can infest dogs.
While flea infestations are much more common in dogs than louse infestations in the US, this is only true for some countries. In certain European regions, such as Scandinavia, lice are significant ectoparasites in dogs, while flea infestation is almost non-existent in these countries.
Lice in Dogs
Lice (Phthiraptera) are small insects, around 1.5 millimeters long and visible to the naked eye, with biting mouthparts. They suck the blood of the dog and thus cause skin damage.
Transmission occurs through direct contact with an animal infested with lice or indirectly through objects such as brushes or combs and sleeping areas. Lice do not transmit disease but can cause skin infections and bald patches in the coat if the infestation is severe.
Development Stages: From Larva to Louse
An adult louse lives for about four weeks. During this time, the females lay up to 100 eggs, the so-called nits.
Unlike flea eggs, which fall out of the dog’s fur and spread to the surrounding area, nits adhere firmly to the dog’s fur. After about nine days, larvae hatch from the eggs and shed their skin three times.
About nine days pass between each molt. After the last molt, the lice are sexually mature and can begin laying eggs two days later. In total, it takes about three weeks until a new generation of lice capable of reproducing has grown.
The lice are transmitted directly from animal to animal, but less frequently also indirectly via objects such as brushes, combs, blankets or pillows.
Fleas in Dogs
Fleas are equally small insects, 1 to 6 millimeters long, which also have mouthparts with which they can penetrate the skin and suck blood.
Unlike lice, however, they have powerful hind legs with which they can jump. Fleas are not very host-specific, meaning that a given species of Ä’flea can infest different mammals such as dogs, cats, hedgehogs, or humans.
The most common flea species in dogs, cats, and small mammals kept as pets, such as rabbits or ferrets, is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
As with lice, transmission can be direct from an infested animal or indirect via objects. However, an essential difference from lice is that fleas can transmit pathogens or parasites such as tapeworms, rickettsiae, or the causative agents of cat scratch disease (Bartonella). In addition, fleas can also cause the so-called flea saliva allergy dermatitis.
How to Recognize Lice in Dogs?
An infestation with lice is usually characterized by a poorly groomed coat. Often the louse eggs (nits) are visible on the hair or adult lice in the fur. The result can be inflamed skin areas (eczema) with crusts and hair loss.
In addition, since louse infestations cause itching in most cases, your dog may appear restless or irritable and scratch more often. A louse infestation can be detected by careful searching and detecting adult parasites or their nits in the coat by combing them out with a flea or lice comb. The combed-out material can be examined microscopically by the veterinarian.
Direct skin damage from lice is rarely problematic but can become severe due to subsequent inflammation. A very heavy lice infestation can also lead to anemia, especially in puppies.
Young or immunocompromised, as well as old dogs, are particularly frequently affected. In addition, due to the unkempt coat, stray or even hunting dogs are more frequently infested with lice because of their increased contact with lice-infested other dogs or with fox dens.
Symptoms of Lice in Dogs
Similar to a flea infestation, dogs with lice suffer from:
- severe itching,
- skin scaling,
- hair loss
- skin lesions
- constant scratching
In many animals, the coat appears poorly groomed. In addition, if your dog has lice, he will often appear restless or irritable due to persistent itching.
If you look at your dog’s coat and skin, you may see the lice themselves or the light-colored nits stuck in the coat with the naked eye. However, it is better to ask your vet for advice to determine whether it is lice. He can detect the lice infestation with the help of a microscope.
How are Lice in Dogs Treated?
If you suspect your dog has lice, you should visit your veterinarian. Dogs with lice infestations should be treated with an appropriate, effective medication until the infestation is completely gone.
Your veterinarian will prescribe this medication. In parallel, sleeping, lying, and favorite places, as well as objects such as brushes and combs, should be cleaned according to veterinary instructions.
For the treatment of lice in dogs, the following means are available:
- medicated lotions,
- special shampoos,
- bath cures,
Alternative home remedies such as coconut oil or herbal lotions, often advertised on the Internet, have not been scientifically proven effective. In case of doubt, they can even cause harm to the dog if they trigger allergies or poisoning, for example.
How to Avoid Reinfestation with Lice in Dogs?
It is essential to avoid reinfection with Lice in Dogs, So it is crucial to go beyond treating your dog to clean his entire environment thoroughly. This means you should wash his blankets, pillows and baskets and vacuum or wipe all areas where your dog spends time.
Next, you can use an insecticide spray to kill any remaining eggs and lice. Repeat the cleaning at least once every 10 to 14 days. This should help you to get rid of the lice permanently.
Are Lice Transmissible from Dogs to Humans?
Since lice are host-specific, i.e., they usually remain loyal to their host, lice from dogs are only transmissible among quadrupeds. Therefore, humans or other animals are not at risk.
Humans are predominantly infested by head lice, less frequently by crabs or clothes lice. Nevertheless, one often hears of cases of head lice infestation in children in kindergartens or schools.
If this is the case, the health department should be informed. However, your dog has nothing to fear in this case because these lice also remain faithful to their host.
When your dog is infested with lice, he usually suffers from severe, persistent itching. In addition, the damaged skin may become inflamed. A very pronounced lice infestation in puppies can sometimes even lead to anemia. That is why timely treatment of lice in dogs is so important!
In contrast to flea infestation, there is no risk of infection for you as the owner. Other animal species, such as cats, are also not at risk since lice in dogs usually remain loyal to their host. The same applies to human lice, by the way.
If children occasionally bring head lice home from school and kindergarten, there is a risk of infection for all other human family members, but not for the dog.