Just as head lice pass from human to human, dog lice are most often transmitted where dogs are in close quarters with other dogs. None of us relish the idea of seeing lice on our pets, just as we freak out if we find these little parasites on our children’s heads.
Pet owners often want to know two things about this subject:
- Can dog lice live on humans?
- And can human lice live on dogs?
All About Lice
First, let’s talk about what lice are exactly: They are small, wingless insects with six legs. Each leg has one or two claws. The adult lays nits (sticky white eggs) that fixate to the hair of the host (dog, human, etc.). Hatching from the eggs, the nymphs go through three molts and become adults. This cycle takes between 14 and 21 days.
There are two types of lice: (1) sucking lice, which suck the blood from their hosts, causing itching, hair loss and skin inflammation. Anemia can also be caused by a large infestation of these creepy-crawlers. These tiny pests are spread by direct contact with other animals or by infected brushes, combs or bedding; (2) biting lice, which, while bringing similar symptoms, do not cause anemia.
Along with the itching and scratching created by dog lice, sufferers also tend to carry tapeworms. It is important to see a veterinarian if you suspect your dog has lice. The veterinarian can recommend a medicated shampoo or spray-on treatment for the lice problem. Once the lice become history, treatment can be given for tapeworms, if present, since they, too, carry diseases.
Adult lice are generally easy to kill using flea and tick preventives. But newly hatched insects aren’t quite so willing to leave. Insecticides may provide some aid in your defense efforts. However, natural plant extracts like pyrethrins and rotenone will not help.
You cannot easily get rid of nits with insecticides or by bathing. Those little eggs will hatch into new lice within a week or so! Any treatments will need to be repeated several times to get rid of them completely.
“Nit-picking” can be done by using a comb made especially for that purpose. (You can also do this by hand — but that is a much more nerve-wracking, time-consuming process.) Shaving your dog will eliminate the nits, since they are attached to the base of the hair shaft, but don’t waste your time clipping — leaving any hair on your pet will leave the nits on him too.
While treating your dog for lice, keep him away from other dogs. You may still give him that walk that he looks forward to — just don’t let him mix with other dogs until his treatments have reached that ultimate goal: lice-free. Also, any grooming tools, along with his bedding, should be cleaned. (Hot, soapy water usually does the trick.)
Can Dog Lice Live on Humans? (and Vice Versa?)
Now, let’s return to the questions asked above. Veterinarian Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, and the ASPCA are in agreement, and their answer is: No.
There is a different species of louse for each species of animal. While dog lice are uncommon, Linognathus piliferus is the species most often found. The entire lifespan of a louse is lived on one host. Dog lice will not live on humans; nor will human lice live on dogs. Dog lice mate on the dog and attach their nits to the hairs of the dog. They hang on for life, for within hours they will die if not on the body of a host.
So, rest assured, if your child comes home from school or a neighbor’s house with head lice, he didn’t get them from a dog — he most likely got them from some other kid. Dog lice do not want your blood!
In the short video below, Dr. Caldwell from Pets Best Insurance discusses what to do about a dog with lice:
- Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM: Can my pet catch head lice from my kids?
- ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs: Lice information