Understanding Dog Lice

Understanding Dog Lice

Posted by Stephanie Gibeault on

Understanding Dog Lice

Lice attacks are a common phenomenon among humans. Now, you may be wondering, can a dog get lice? The answer is that those persistent little creatures can also infest dogs. But, there is a distinct difference in the types that plague humans and those that attack dogs.

Let's explore this fascinating relationship between dogs and lice a little more. We will also share effective dog lice treatments and how you can prevent future attacks.

Lice: What Are They?

Lice are parasitic insects that infect humans and animals' hair shafts and skin. Please note that lice are species-specific. So, lice that infect dogs will be different from those that infect humans.

There are two main types of dog lice.

Linognathus Setosus or Canine-Sucking Lice

Canine-sucking lice have specialized mouthparts that allow them to pierce the skin. This lice type is especially prevalent in long-haired dog breeds. During heavy infestation, the discomfort level they will cause to the dog is quite severe. Infestation can lead to hair loss, skin infections, itching, and anemia.

Trichodectes Canis or Chewing Lice

Chewing lice get their name from their mouthparts. Such helps with chewing on hair, skin debris, or other organic matter. This species typically infests the head, tail, and neck region. There is another chewing louse, which is heterodoxus spiniger. It is common in domestic dogs, within the tropical regions. They can be more of a problem because they can attack any part of the host's body.

In comparison to the sucking type, chewing lice are not as bad. But, a heavy infestation can cause severe skin irritation, hair loss, and itching. This can make your dog uncomfortable, requiring urgent lice treatment for dogs.

What does dog lice look like? Appearance-wise, lice have flat bodies and are wingless. A close look will show a remarkable resemblance to beetles but with ant-like legs. The six-legged parasites attach themselves to the hair shaft of the host.

Adult lice have an excellent natural camouflage due to their brown or tan color. It's common to mistake them for dirt. You can identify the nits or lice eggs where they lay them as they are tiny and white or yellow.

dog getting treated for lice

Dog Lice Symptoms

Please look for the following dog lice symptoms.

  • Extreme itchiness, often leading to constant scratching by the dog
  • Possible skin breakage and bleeding due to the intense scratching
  • Hair loss in the affected areas
  • Red, scabby, or inflamed skin at the sites of infestation
  • White flakes signal the presence of lice eggs in the coat. The flakes resemble dandruff.
  • Stiff or coarsened patches of hair
  • Swelling or pain with irritation
  • Bite marks in the affected areas
  • Slow-moving, light-colored bugs in the dog's fur
  • Behavioral changes such as restlessness and discomfort, irritability, and lethargy

In case you suspect a lice infestation, consult a veterinarian. They will recommend proper diagnosis and lice treatment for dogs.

Lice in Dogs: Causes

At this point, you must be wondering how dogs get lice. Well, many factors contribute to lice infestation in your dog.

Close contact with infected dogs is one of the most common ways lice spread. Environments with high dog populations can be a huge challenge. These include animal shelters, dog parks, and kennels. It becomes easier for your dog to encounter infested ones.

Poor hygiene or grooming is another contributing factor. It creates the perfect environment for lice reproduction and infestation. It's important to avoid sharing grooming tools with other dogs since it can spread the lice. Poor hygiene also extends to the living environment. If your dog lives in unsanitary/crowded environments, it heightens its exposure.

Shared living space, bedding, toys, blankets, etc., allow for easy lice transfer from dog to dog.

Finally, a lack of preventive measures can increase exposure. For instance, not using parasite control measures increases the likelihood of lice infestation.

dog getting treated for lice 2

Dog Lice Diagnosis

Dog lice diagnosis combines visual examination, microscopic analysis, and clinical evaluation. If you know what the lice look like, it is easy to see them in the dog's fur. You may also spot the lice eggs clinging to the individual coat hairs. But, the other two processes will need the expertise of a vet.

Under visual examination, the vet examines the dog's skin and coat. They're looking for the most obvious signs of infestation, including the lice. The lice eggs are also a clear sign of adult lice. Also, other evidence like hair loss, skin irritation, and itching, give valuable insights.

Microscopic analysis also confirms the presence of dog lice. The vet will take samples of the dog's skin and hair and examine them under a microscope. The results can also show if there are other skin issues leading to the symptoms.

Skin scraping may be necessary in some cases. The vet gently scrapes the skin surface for purposes of sample collection. They then put this under the microscope to identify dog lice. The vets will also determine the presence of other infections or parasites.

A clinical evaluation considers the dog's symptoms, living environment, and medical history. The vet will also ask about behavioral changes, itching patterns, and possible interactions with other dogs.

Finally, there is differential diagnosis. Not all cases of skin irritation or itching are due to lice infestation. Other culprits, such as ticks, fleas, mites, skin infections, and allergies, may be at play. It's important to rule out any other causes of the symptoms before recommending a treatment plan.

Lice Treatment for Dogs

Now that we have covered the question of can dogs carry lice, let's explore treatment options... 

Chemical products

Fipronil, selamectin, imidacloprid (Advantage), and permethrins are effective for dog lice treatment. They can be in topical or oral forms. The products work by killing lice and eggs. Please avoid purchasing such treatments over the counter. The chemical products prescriptions should come from the vet. Kindly follow the instructions on dosage and schedule. Deviating from this can harm your dog.

Lime-Sulfur Dip

Lime-sulfur dips are effective in treating many skin conditions in dogs, including lice infestations. Dilute the dip and apply it to your dog's coat. After that, allow it to air dry. The lime sulfur has anti-parasitic and insecticidal properties that kill the dog lice. There's also the extra benefit of soothing the skin. Don't let the dog jump onto furniture, as the dip can stain. Also, the smell is quite strong, so use it in an airy environment.

Gentle Shampoo

gentle shampoos and fine-toothed lice or flea combs are another lice treatment option. The combination of the two helps remove the lice. First, wash the dog using shampoo. Afterward, comb through the coat with a fine-tooth comb to remove the nits and lice. Do pay extra attention to any crevices in which the lice may be hiding. Once you finish, take the time to sanitize the comb. If not, there is the potential for re-infestation. You could also spread the lice to other pets you use the flea comb on.

Clean Contaminated Areas

Washing the bedding in hot water is an effective way of killing lice. Also, vacuum any areas within the home that the dog likes to spend time in. Steam cleaning rugs and furniture will remove any lice eggs or lice.

Finally, maintain consistency and thoroughness while applying dog lice treatment. We reiterate the point of following the best recommendations. Dependents on over-the-counter products may at first be effective. But, over time, the lice may develop resistance to specific treatments. Due to their expertise, vets can recommend another dog lice treatment to get rid of the problem.

You will know the treatments are effective if you notice dead lice on the dog. Such have zero movement. Dead lice may attach to the hair shaft or skin. Your dog will not experience much itching, and the skin will start returning to normal. Even if you notice this, continue the treatment per the dosage recommendation.

person helping their dog with lice

Dogs with Lice: Prognosis

Dog lice prognosis looks at the expected outcome of the infestation. It also explores the likelihood of the dog's recovery and return to normalcy. A good prognosis shows a high probability of improvement.

It's crucial to isolate infected dogs during treatment. This is the most practical way to prevent the spread of lice to other animals. It's important to avoid direct contact, sharing of beddings, and other close interactions. Please maintain this course of action until you have rid the dog of lice.

Stick to an aggressive and persistent treatment plan. Follow the treatment that the vet recommends closely. It could be one type of treatment or a combination of several. They may suggest using the lime sulfur dip together with oral medications and regular grooming. Also, treat the environment to take care of any infestation fully.

Be patient and realistic about the treatment and recovery. In the best-case scenario, your dog will recover quickly. But others may take much longer. Don't forget appointments for progress monitoring and treatment adjustments where necessary.

Dog Lice Prevention Tips

Use the following tips to ensure your dogs stay safe from tick infestations.

Year-round tick and flea prevention. Take advantage of the special formulations to target these pesky critters. These formulations will also prove to be effective against lice. The vet will recommend the best treatment based on your dog's specific needs.

Keep the areas where dogs congregate clean. Some may indeed be out of your control. For instance, you have little say about public spaces like parks. In that case, try and avoid going near large populations of dogs. But if you, for example, have to use boarding facilities or kennels, check to ensure proper hygiene. Have the same at home through regular cleaning and sanitization. Also, seek immediate treatment for lice infestation.

If you use grooming salons, be bold and enquire about the sanitization of their equipment. Shared tools are a common way of spreading lice. Stick to reputable establishments or do the grooming yourself. The advantage is that they will not stake their reputation by being unhygienic.

Dog To Human Lice Spread

Please note that lice are species-specific. Thus, your dog cannot pass on the lice to you as the species that attacks them is different. And the reverse is also true. Even if you have lice, transmitting them to your dog is impossible.

The head lice in children are a different species from dog lice. These types of lice belong to the pediculus humanus capitis family. They have special adaptations like claws to anchor to the hair.

fluffy dogs sitting in grass

Decontaminating the Environment to Eliminate Lice

Use the following tips to decontaminate your environment to get rid of lice.

Wash bedding in hot water and dry them at high heat to kill lice and their eggs.

Sanitize or dispose of infested areas. The first place to tackle is where your dog likes to spend a lot of It's Time. If sanitization is not working and you can still see signs of lice, then disposal is the only option.

Keep up with regular dog lice inspection, especially on its coat and skin. Recognizing symptoms like scratching or redness will allow you to respond fast. Also, proactively use the flea comb to check for dog lice or nits.

Get your dog flea-dipped, which is a method of treating pets for flea infestations. It entails total immersion of the dog into chemical products designed to kill fleas.


Can my dog carry lice? Yes, it can, but don't worry about them spreading to humans. The dog lice are species-specific. You must take immediate steps to remedy the lice infestations. There are different dog lice treatments available. Take it a step further by preventing a lice re-infestation on your beloved dog.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/trichodectes-canis#:~:text=Trichodectes%20canis%20usually%20infests%20the,found%20anywhere%20on%20its%20host.
  2. https://www.britannica.com/animal/Heterodoxus-spiniger
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/dpdx/pediculosis/index.html
  4. https://capcvet.org/guidelines/lice/#:~:text=Fipronil%2C%20imidacloprid%20and%20selamectin%20are,fluralaner%20was%20effective%20against%20L.

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Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Stephanie Gibeault developed a lifelong fascination with animals. Armed with a Bachelor's in ecology & evolution and a Master's in animal behavior, she started as a biologist, facing marmosets and gorillas. Today, a certified dog trainer and freelance writer, she combines her passion for canines with a talent for words. Stephanie specializes in crafting children's picture books and middle-grade fiction/nonfiction, all while sharing her love for dog behavior. Her stories educate and enchant, drawing both kids and adults into the captivating world of the human-canine connection. You'll find her concocting tales while cuddling up with her two rescue pups and her cat, who often double as her enthusiastic writing companions in her spare time.

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