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How Do I Get Rid of Lice On Cats?

Cat Care
6 minutes read
Is your cat showing signs of intense scratching? IIt may be lice. Yes, animals get lice too.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

Have you noticed your cat scratching more than usual? Chances are that your cat might have lice.

Like most pets, cats are subject to parasites, including lice. While lice infestation is uncommon in cats, it can occur for various reasons. They are usually a nuisance to get rid of once they infest. 

Cat lice infestation is rare among indoor cats, with owners who constantly groom them. On the other hand, if your cat enjoys the outdoors and goes out regularly, or if you have multiple cats, chances are you will deal with these pesky parasites.

There are several steps to remove lice on cats, but the critical treatment method is to wash the cat with an appropriate shampoo. Several shampoos on the market will eliminate multiple parasites, including lice. The main thing to remember is to purchase a cat-specific product. Shampoos used for humans won't work, and ones used for other pets, specifically, dogs, can harm or kill a cat.

Thankfully, there are different ways to get rid of a cat's lice and even ways to help prevent it from coming back. While some may not be ideal, they can help treat and prevent lice from returning.

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lice on cats

How Do Cats Get Lice?

Cats' most common cause of lice infestation is unfavorable environments such as dirty and overcrowded living conditions. Lice are common with stray cats that live in adverse environments and have never been to the vet or haven't been to the vet for a long time. Cat lice are highly contagious and spread like wildfire among cats when they come in close contact with one another.

If you suspect a cat has lice, it must be examined closely. Lice appear as flat, oval-shaped insects, and they can resemble dandruff at first glance. The main difference is that lice will be either moving or will be in the egg stage, known as a nit, and will be attached to the hair. Nits won't move if you touch them and typically cannot be removed from the hair.

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how to get rid of lice on cats

How Can You Tell If Your Cat Has Lice?

Itching is the main symptom in all types of lice infestations – whether in humans, cats, dogs, or other species. In cats, itching may be more severe, and they may sometimes exhibit a ragged coat and hair loss from constant scratching and biting.

Lice have powerful claws, which cling to your cat's fur. Because of how tightly they cling on, even vigorous scratching and biting don't dislodge them. Because lice survive on cats by biting them and drinking their blood, this causes irritation and extreme itching.

Your cat might also get more agitated and anxious when infested with lice because they are uncomfortable from the itching. In extreme cases, lice infestations may cause anemia in a cat.

A vet will diagnose the cat and establish if they indeed have lice and how severe the infestation is.

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How to Get Rid of Lice on Cats

So, you've established that lice infest your cat. You can take several steps to get rid of lice on your cat.

Use Anti-Parasitic Cat Shampoo

The key treatment method is to wash the cat with the appropriate shampoo. Regardless of which shampoo is used, it will usually have to be applied several times, usually in 10-14 day intervals, depending on the type of shampoo used. The eggs will most likely not be removed even after shampooing.

Ensure that you get the shampoo from the vet or a pet store where you can get assistance on cat-friendly products.

Treatment using the shampoo should continue based on your veterinarian's recommendations and typically last between several weeks and sometimes even months to ensure the entire life cycle of lice is eliminated. If the cat gets skin infections, scratches, or sores from the infestation, your vet may have to treat these with additional medication or products.

Even if the cat no longer shows symptoms, it must be checked several weeks after the last shampoo to verify the infestation is gone.

Shave The Cat

When you come across a bald cat, sometimes it's because the best solution to eliminate the lice infestation is to shave it. Of course, certain breeds of cats cannot genetically grow hair, but some are shaven to deal with lice. The eggs will most likely not be removed even after using shampoo in most cases, so cat owners resort to shaving. The cat might go bald for a few days, but the lice problem will be done and dusted.

Clean Everything Your Cat Uses

Any instrument that came into contact with the cat, such as combs, must be soaked in alcohol and thoroughly cleaned. Areas of the house, such as a cat bed, which came into contact with the cat fur, will need to be thoroughly vacuumed and laundered, if possible. Many of the shampoos for lice on cats are effective enough that one cleaning of the possibly infested areas will be enough, as the shampoos continue to kill the lice on contact.

Lice are sly buggers, and sometimes when you're onto them, they hide in things your cat uses. 

You might also need to clean your bedding, clothes, furniture, carpet, etc., where your cat has been in contact recently. 

We recommend you consult an exterminator about insecticides and pesticides safe for use around cats if you have to clean down the entire household. Maybe keep your cat away during the treatment until all the products are dry and there are no more fumes.

Regular Checkups for Your Cat

Even if the cat no longer shows symptoms, it must be checked several weeks after the last shampoo treatment to verify the infestation is gone. After all, it's easier to prevent lice than try to get rid of them.

If your cat enjoys spending time outdoors where it can come into contact with other cats, have regular checkups with your vet to avoid the frustration of lice infestation.

Preventative Treatment

The easiest and most effective way to prevent lice is to clean your cat's environment. However, you can also prevent lice infestations using external parasite control products. These products keep the pesky little pests at bay and improve your cat's overall well-being.

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Can Cats Transmit Lice to Humans and Vice Versa?

The good news is we can't get lice from cats. Better news? Cats can't get lice from humans, either. Lice are species-specific parasites and typically only infect one species. The type of lice children get is not the same that a cat will get. You and your family cannot get cat lice. Nonetheless, it's essential to remember that cat lice are highly transmissible among cats.

Final Thoughts

Nothing is worse than seeing a loved one in pain, especially your household cat. Lice infestation can cause severe irritation to your beloved ESA cat to the point that it affects your well-being. 

Keeping a cat thoroughly groomed can go a long way in avoiding lice on cats. Ensure that you also keep your cat's environment sanitary, and take regular trips to a vet to get on top of lice infestation situations before they escalate.

Visit Pettable's blog to get helpful pet care information and other helpful resources.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.