Can Dogs Get Lice?

Key takeaway

Dogs can get lice, but they get a different type of lice than humans. Lice can cause itchy skin, extreme scratching, and irritation. The symptoms of dog lice are similar to other types of parasitic infestations and skin conditions, so diagnosis by a vet is required before you begin treatment.

Dogs scratch themselves whenever they have an itch, so don't be surprised if you notice your dog scratching their neck with their hind legs. There are many reasons why dogs scratch, but one reason pet parents never seem to think about is lice.

Yes, dogs can get lice, but they're affected by different types of lice than humans. Three different types of lice can affect your dog, causing itching, pain, inflammation, and even hair loss.1

What Is Lice?

Now that you know that a dog can get lice, it's important to understand the type of lice they can get. You might even be wondering, "Can dogs get head lice?" or "Can dogs get lice from humans." Luckily, the answer to both of these questions is no; dogs cannot get head lice, and you can't pass lice to your dog and vice versa.

Lice are flightless insects that live in hair or fur and can be either biting/chewing or sucking lice. Lice feed on the skin of their host, while blood-sucking lice feed on the blood of mammals. Female lice glue their nits, or eggs, into the hairs of a host, making it impossible to shampoo or wash them away. Once the eggs hatch, they're smaller than adults but similar in shape and color. After hatching, nits take only a few weeks to become adults.1

Can Dogs Get Human Lice?

Dogs can't get human lice because lice are species-specific and human lice is called Pediculus humanus capitis.2 Ultimately, you can't pass on your lice to your dog, and they can't pass it on to you. However, that doesn't mean your dog should go without treatment. Lice can be irritating, causing the dog to scratch and lead to lesions or scabs that can become infected.

Types of dog lice

Types Of Dog Lice

Three types of species can infest dogs, including a blood-sucking louse, a biting louse, and a biting louse that feeds on blood. The chewing/biting louse that feeds on blood is rare in the US. The two common types you might find on your dog are the biting louse, Trichodenteces canis, and the sucking lice, Linognathus setosus.1

Chewing lice take hold of a dog's fur with their mouth and chew off dead skin cells. Unfortunately, they can also lead to tapeworm in dogs, so treatment is necessary. On the other hand, sucking lice grip the dog's fur with their claws and have narrow mouthparts to suck the dog's blood.

Ultimately, lice are parasites that feed on the skin or blood of the host and can cause irritated skin and itching. So if your dog is itching without fleas, it could indicate they have lice or another type of skin condition.

Signs Of Dog Lice

The symptoms of dog lice are similar to the symptoms of many other skin irritations, allergies, and skin conditions. If you notice any lice symptoms, it's always best to get them treated as soon as possible to rule out any other problems and help prevent your dog from experiencing extreme discomfort.

Signs of dog lice

Symptoms of dog lice include:

  • Itchy skin, scratching and biting at the skin
  • Hair loss and fur matting
  • Inflammation
  • Visible lice
  • White flakes
  • Dry, rough coat1

The most common sign of lice is itchy skin. Depending on your dog's color and fur thickness, seeing lice on them without searching for them may be difficult. Instead, most dogs start to scratch themselves, which can cause breaking skin. Untreated lice can result in fur loss and infection because your dog may be scratching their skin raw.

Of course, seeing lice is also possible if you inspect your dog. They are light in color and move slowly, unlike fleas that are fast and jump.

Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of dog lice are similar to other common dog skin conditions. For example, when your dog scratches, you may see white flakes that resemble dandruff fall off them. However, those white flakes could be lice eggshells.

How Do Dogs Get Lice?

Lice can't jump like fleas and ticks, so they have limited mobility. They are wingless and species-specific, so it's only possible for a dog to get lice from another dog.3 However, it does not require direct contact with another dog to become infected. Your dog can get lice from touching infected objects. For example, if a dog with lice rubbed up against the same grass before yours did. Common places where dogs can get lice include parks, hiking trails, bedding, and grooming tools.4

Because dogs get lice from other dogs, keeping any infected dog separate from other household dogs and away from common dog spots is best. For example, you shouldn't take your dog to the dog park when they're being treated for lice because they could pose a risk to other dogs. Lice are incredibly contagious, so your dog will need to be quarantined in the home until their treatment is over and the lice are gone.

How Is Dog Lice Treated?

Before a dog can be treated for lice, they must first get diagnosed with lice. There's no reason to start treating your dog for something they might not have, especially if you haven't seen an adult louse on your dog's skin or fur. Lice symptoms are similar to fleas, mites, and other skin disorders, all of which require different treatments.3 Your vet will comb your dog's hair to look for signs of lice or another parasite. They can diagnose lice easily if they see adults, shells, or eggs. However, your vet might have to do a skin scraping to rule out other parasites if lice aren't evident.

Once your dog is diagnosed with lice, your vet can begin treating them. Using a comb on dogs with lice is ineffective because it can't kill adult lice or lice that have hatched. Most treatments involve spot-on treatments, shampoos, or collars, depending on your pet and your preferences.1

Keep your infected dog away from other dogs until their treatment is complete. Your vet may recommend treating all dogs within the same household as a precaution. You should also wash all bedding and dog products in hot water and clean areas where they spend their time to prevent lice from returning.3

Following a vet's treatment plan is important because it requires repeated treatment to kill adults and eggs, so if you don't follow your vet's recommendations, your dog might not be lice-free.

Luckily, preventing lice is easy because many fleas and tick preventatives also prevent lice, so if you give your dog a monthly chewable, they'll be better protected from fleas, ticks, and lice. 1

Dog Lice: Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if your dog has lice?

The most obvious signs of lice are scratching and biting at the fur. However, dogs with lice also have a dry coat, and you may see flakes come off their skin when they scratch. Therefore, the only true way to know whether your dog has lice, another type of parasite, or skin condition is to visit your vet if you notice your dog scratching themselves more than usual.

Can lice live in dog hair?

Yes, lice lay legs and feed on the dog's skin or blood, depending on the species. However, human lice and dog lice are not the same. Lice is species-specific, so you can't get lice from your dog, and they can't get it from you. However, treating lice is important to help prevent infections that can occur due to all the scratching they cause.

How does lice look on dogs?

Lice are usually visible from a skin examination. However, depending on your dog's fur, you might not be able to see them if you aren't looking for them. You may see eggs or adult lice on the dog's skin measuring about 1-2mm in length. Adult lice are light brown, and eggs are whiter in color and get stuck in the hair shaft. You may also see empty eggs fly off your pet when they're scratching since they may resemble dandruff.

Dog next to computer waiting for telehealth appointment

Final Notes

Yes, dogs can get lice, but it’s not transmitted between humans and their pet companions. If your dog starts scratching themselves more than usual or you see parasites or infections on your dog's skin or coat, it's always best to consult a vet. The symptoms of dog lice are similar to those of other skin conditions and parasites, including mites and fleas, so only a vet can diagnose and treat your dog correctly.

Wondering why your dog is scratching so much? Ask a Dutch vet. Dutch simplifies the vet experience by offering telemedicine for pets to help you understand what's happening with your pet. In addition, we can help recommend products to help prevent and treat lice infections after your dog has been diagnosed.

References

  1. Thomas, Jennifer E. “Lice of Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 21 June 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/lice-of-dogs#:~:text=Dogs%20can%20be%20infested%20with,health%20can%20become%20heavily%20infested.

  2. CK;, Nutanson I;Steen CJ;Schwartz RA;Janniger. “Pediculus Humanus Capitis: An Update.” Acta Dermatovenerologica Alpina, Pannonica, Et Adriatica, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19104739/.

  3. Staff, AKC. “Dog Lice: What They Are, How to Avoid Them.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 24 June 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-get-lice/.

  4. Grill, Jeff. “Dog Lice - Picture Symptoms Diagnosis and Treatment.” Dog Health Guide, 14 Aug. 2015, https://www.dog-health-guide.org/doglice.html.