What Are Dog Lice?

Jun 6, 2021 | Pet Health, Pets

Happy Monday everyone!  It’s funny how conversations can bring up new ideas for blog posts and this one comes from talks about head lice which made me wonder if dogs can get lice?  Lice on dogs are not the most common infestation, but it can happen. So what are dog lice, and how did they end up on your dog?  I found some great references on https://www.homesalive.ca and https://www.vet.bc.ca/lice.pml and so much that I might continue this post on Wednesday so that I am able to give all the wonderful information out there.
Lice are tiny flightless insects, also called a louse. They are only about 2-4 mm in size, so they are very small but still visible to the naked eye. Typically tan or brown, lice are often mistaken for small fleas, but they are a bit tougher to get rid of than fleas. 

Louse attach themselves to the hair, fur, or feathers of an animal. They have hooked claws that allow them to hook into the follicle of the fur or hair, making it very difficult to detach them.
There are a couple of types of dog lice. Both kinds of lice cause itchiness and discomfort that will increase if the lice are not treated. 

Chewing Louse
The first is called a chewing louse. Though there are two species of chewing lice for dogs, one is rarely seen outside of tropical regions, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see them often in Canada, but they may be found in warmer and more humid parts of the US. The species of dog lice are found worldwide, and the most likely type of lice in Canada is called Trichodectes canis.  

Chewing lice typically live on their host for up to 30 days by feeding on the host’s dead skin cells and skin secretions. They can feed and reproduce quickly in such a fertile environment. 

Sucking Louse

The second and slightly more intimidating type of lice is called the sucking louse. This louse feeds on the blood of the host. Sucking lice bite the skin, burrowing their pincher-like mouths into the skin. Their scientific name is Linognathus setosus. 

These little vampires damage the skin more quickly than chewing lice, so unchecked infestations can quickly cause larger issues. Fortunately, this type of louse is also very uncommon in Canada. They require a more tropical climate to thrive.
Dog Lice Life Cycle
Like fleas, lice have three life stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults.
  • Eggs, also called nits, are layed and glued to the base of the hair follicle, making them difficult to detach.
  • Lice eggs are lighter in colour, often white or yellow, so they are usually mistaken for dandruff.
  • In about a week, the eggs will hatch into nymphs. Nymphs are very small and much harder to spot than a full-grown adult.
  • At this stage, you might not notice them at all if it weren’t for your dog’s reaction to this itch-causing pest.
  • It will take another week or two before the nymphs reach adult maturity.
  • At this point, they are ready to reproduce and start laying their eggs.
  • Lice can lay eggs daily, which means infestations that go untreated can cause an exceedingly uncomfortable and unpleasant situation for your dog.
How To Treat Dog Lice:
Many insecticides are effective treatments for lice in dogs. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), Fipronil, imidacloprid, and selamectin are all effective. Topical permethrin can be used on dogs with good effect.
Dog lice on people:

There is no need to panic if your dog gets lice! Dog lice do not like to infest humans. Most lice are quite species-specific; that is, dog lice like dogs and people lice like people. It is definitely possible for a dog louse to get on a person, and it might even bite or try to feed, but it will not set up an infestation. If you see a louse from your dog on yourself, just pick it off or squish it.
How to Prevent Dog Lice

Like any pests, prevention is always easier than treatment. Fortunately, lice are not super common in domesticated dogs. Still, it’s important to know what steps you can take to limit your dog’s exposure and make his body an undesirable environment for lice to attach themselves. 

The first and most important factor in preventing lice infestations is keeping your dog healthy and clean. Dogs living in filthy environments, like strays, and sick dogs, are the most likely to attract lice. 

Keep your pet healthy by feeding a high-quality diet and having regular vet checks done. If your dog is showing any signs of illness, you should contact your vet immediately. 

Additionally, because lice pass from canine to canine, it is best to keep your dog from interacting with strays or wildlife that may be carrying these pests.
Stay tuned for more info on Wednesday!  

I love hearing from all of you and do my best to respond to each and every one of you.  I always enjoy your comments, feedback, and suggestions so keep them coming!  If I’ve posted a recipe (for our human and our furry friends) and you try it, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram @twoadorablelabs and use #twoadorablelabs​.

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