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Lice and Your Dog

Louse infestations are more common in young puppies, ill, poorly fed or elderly animals.

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Lice live on the skin of your dog, and feed by chewing, or sucking blood. Lice can be very uncomfortable for your dog, and can make them itchy, sore and even anaemic. 

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What are lice?

Lice are a type of wingless insect, which live on the skin of animals for their whole life and can only survive for a few days in the environment. Unlike many other parasites, lice are very host-specific, so will only infest specific species. Lice can either be chewing lice, which chew on the skin of their host, or sucking lice, which suck blood. Lice may also transmit other disease, as well as being uncomfortable for the affected dog.

There are two types of lice that infest dogs here in the UK:

  1. The ‘Dog chewing louse’. This chewing louse, also called Trichodectes canis, is found all over the world. These lice can be very irritating to dogs when present in large numbers, but can also pass on the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. These lice will live on almost all species of canine, including wolves, and like to live around the back, neck and head especially.
  2. ‘Linognathus setosus’. This sucking louse feeds on the blood of affected dogs and is found worldwide. Only 5-2.5mm long, this blood-sucker can cause problems when present in large numbers, as especially in young, unwell or malnourished dogs their feeding habits can lead to anaemia (low blood levels).

How can my dog get lice?

Louse infestations are more common in young puppies, ill, poorly fed or elderly animals, and this is especially true if they are kept in crowded or unclean conditions. Thankfully, infestations are not common in clean, healthy pets, although they can occur. 

What are the signs of a louse infection?

An infestation with lice, also called ‘canine pediculosis’, may show signs including: 

  • Visible ‘nits’ (louse eggs) on the hair or visible adult lice 
  • Patchy hair loss 
  • Moth-eaten appearance 
  • Itching and rubbing
  • Restlessness 
  • Skin sores 
  • Anaemia (low blood levels)  

Your vet may recommend skin tests which can look for parasites using a microscope if they suspect lice. 

If your dog is experiencing any of these signs then make an appointment with your local Vets4Pets as soon as possible.

How can I stop my dog getting lice?

Thankfully, although you can’t stop your dog being exposed to lice, you can prevent an infestation developing by:

  1. Regular anti-parasite treatments. These treatments usually come in the form of spot-ons, and may manage a range of parasites including sucking lice. The best parasite protocol for your dog will depend on you and your dog and your vet can help you decide which regime works best for you. However you choose to manage parasites in your dog, make sure to speak to a vet about the best anti-parasitics on offer, as many over the counter treatments have poor efficacy.
  2. Considering all pets. Although lice do not transmit between species, if you have more than one dog, make sure all your dogs are treated regularly for parasites.
  3. Monitoring. If you see any changes in your dog’s hair coat, skin or behaviour, always get them checked over by a vet who will be able to help control any louse infestation.
  4. Grooming. Regular grooming can help identify any changes in your dog’s skin early, which will help with effective and rapid treatment.

Thankfully, healthy adult dogs are at a low risk of picking up a lice infestation. 

What should I do if I think my dog has lice?

If you think your dog might have lice, the best thing to do is to go to your vet. They can do a full physical examination, and check your dog over from nose to tail! If there is a risk your dog may have lice, your vet will prescribe a treatment suitable for your pet, which should eliminate the lice. They can also help you plan a parasite prevention plan going forward too, to make sure your dog stays protected, and talk to you about how to clean items like bedding to help prevent reinfection.

If there is any doubt, your vet may recommend skin tests. These will look for the lice, which can be more easily identified under a microscope.  

What about my health?

As lice are species specific, it is very unlikely for dog lice to transmit to humans.

Take a look here for more information on our Complete Care Health Plan, which provides all your pet’s parasite protection needs for a simple monthly payment.