The lowly louse can cause your dog a lot of discomfort. A healthy lifestyle coupled with vigilance (and a fine-toothed comb!) can help keep him from becoming a host to these creepy critters.
Lice aren’t just a human problem. There’s a canine variety that can also plague your pooch. Like fleas, these flat, gray, wingless parasites may be small, but they can make your dog miserable.
There are two main types of lice. Chewing lice attach themselves to the base of the dog’s hair using their mandibles. They tend to hang out near moist areas such as the ears, genitals, anus and any skin abrasions. Sucking lice, on the other hand, like to attach themselves to the dog’s neck and shoulders and gorge themselves on blood.
Lice are very prolific. The females lay eggs, called nits, near the base of the dog’s hair. The eggs hatch a couple of weeks later, and the nymphs molt three times before maturing into adult lice two to three weeks after that. During a female louse’s lifetime, which is 30 days long, she can lay several eggs a day.
Scratching where it itches
The signs of a lice infestation often mimic a flea infestation. The dog will scratch or bite the irritated areas. They are actually more irritating than fleas, because they attach themselves to the skin, so infested canines may also exhibit sleeplessness, alopecia, pruritus, nervousness and a scraggly matted coat.
Lice are easy to spot. You may have to push the hair around to see them, but once you do, you will know them when you see them. The canine variety are slow moving, and look like black specks of dirt with a clear lining around their bodies.
Dogs most prone to a lice infestation are those living in unclean or overcrowded environments or who are poorly nourished. Very young puppies, elderly or special needs dogs are also more susceptible. Veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk adds that since lice are readily visible to the naked eye, they shouldn’t become a serious health problem, unless you neglect to treat the dog. Left unaddressed, a lice infestation can cause anemia and/or lead to secondary bacterial infections.
Getting rid of lice
If your dog ever gets lice, you need to take several steps towards eradicating them. First, wash all bedding, toys and anything else your dog has come in contact with since getting lice. This also means thoroughly cleaning items that can’t be thrown in the washing machine, such as crates, floors, upholstery and car seats. To treat a dog, most conventional veterinarians will recommend products such as Frontline, K9 Advantix or Revolution applied every two weeks for a total of three treatments. Regular baths with an insecticidal shampoo containing pyrethrin may also be recommended. A limesulfur dip should also do the trick.
Although these products, with their harsh chemicals, are a surefire way to eradicate all lice, you may want to consider a less toxic treatment. “It depends on how bad the infestation is, and how grossed out you are,” says Dr. Newkirk. “Shaving, combing and bathing will eventually remove the lice ‘manually’.”
• Flea combs are a great way to remove both dead and live lice, but they don’t aid in the removal of nits. • Bathe an infested dog daily with a natural organic shampoo – and leave him lathered up for ten minutes before rinsing.
• Applying a lemon rinse after each bath will help kill off nits. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.
• If you are still having trouble getting rid of nits, try slathering your dog’s fur in mayonnaise. Once you have it well rubbed in, rinse the dog off thoroughly.
Lice are mainly spread through direct contact. People who frequently take their dogs to parks, doggie daycares or hiking trails where other dogs have been, may be putting their companions at risk of exposure. “Lice can also be transmitted through contaminated bedding or grooming equipment,” adds Dr Newkirk.
But this doesn’t mean you have to keep your dog at home and away from other canines. There are several preventative measures you can take to help prevent lice from making your pooch their new home.
• Keep your dog well groomed. You can do this at home with weekly or bi-weekly bathing and brushing, or take him to a professional holistic groomer. Make sure the groomer takes steps to keep his or her equipment clean at all times. Long-haired dogs should be clipped on a regular basis.
• Provide your dog with a clean living environment. Wash bedding and brushes regularly, and vacuum carpets and upholstery.
• Perhaps most importantly, feed your dog a high quality diet and avoid over-vaccination to help ensure a strong immune system. A healthy dog is much less likely to become the host of a lice infestation.
Lice are gross, but don’t panic if your dog ever gets them. They won’t spread to your human family. But you still need to address the problem so your canine companion can once more be comfortable and itch-free.