Fact checked

How Do I Get Rid of Lice On Dogs?

Dog Care
6 minutes read
Is your dog showing signs of constant itching? It may be possible that it is suffering from animal lice, which is easy to eliminate following a few steps.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

If your emotional support dog is vigorously scratching themselves and thought it normal dog behavior. But, while dogs usually scratch when uncomfortable, the behavior could signal a lice infestation.

Lice on dogs can become a serious problem if not treated, and dog lice infestations have been known to cause anemia in dogs. Dog lice aren't the same type of lice that infest humans. There are multiple options for treating these infestations, which can cause extreme itching, scratching, and secondary skin infections. 

Insecticides, shampoos, and dips can effectively clear up the lice. Combing with a lice comb after treatment can help remove dead lice, and their eggs, from the dog's fur and skin.

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how to get rid of lice on dogs

What Are Dog Lice?

Dog lice are small, flat, wingless, six-legged pests that usually live and feed only on dogs. They live in canine fur and usually feed by sucking canine blood. They generally spend their entire life cycle in the fur of a dog. Lice have strong hook-like claws on their legs, which they use to cling tightly onto your dog’s hair shafts.

Lice vs Fleas

Lice on dogs are usually visible to the unassisted gaze. While it may be easy to mistake lice for fleas at first glance, there are some distinct differences. Lice are small and brown, usually a light brown, while fleas have a dark, almost black hue. They usually move more slowly than fleas and don't jump like fleas.

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How Do Dogs Get Lice?

Removing lice from dog fur involves killing both the adult lice and their eggs. Insecticides often can't penetrate through to the interior of the louse egg to kill the larva within. Some treatments may need to be used multiple times, in order to keep killing the new lice that will continuously hatch out of the eggs left behind.

Lice infestation is common in unsanitary dogs living in adverse environments. Strays living in filthy locations are attractive hosts for lice and other parasites. Old, sick, and feral dogs are also synonymous with lice infestation. 

Lice have limited mobility, are unable to jump, hop, or fly, and can only crawl. Because of their limited mobility, lice are transmitted through direct contact with lice-infested animals.

Whenever dogs congregate in dog parks, daycare centers, boarding kennels, or dog shows, they have increased lice transmission. Lice can also get passed on from contaminated dog collars, or grooming tools. However, if your dog doesn’t get out much and interact with other pups, the chances of getting lice are minimal.

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How Can You Know That Your Dog Has Lice?

If you suddenly notice your dog has a dry, rough, or matted coat, it might result from lice infestation. Because of the intense scratching to try and relieve the itching, your dog might get small wounds or sore red inflamed skin. Anemia is also a sign in more extreme cases of infestation, mostly in small dogs and puppies.

If you suspect your dog has lice, it’s wise to take them to the vet for closer examination. A veterinarian will diagnose the dog and determine if they have lice and how serious the infestation is. This will help guide the next steps taken.

How to Get Rid of Lice on Dogs

Topical insecticide treatments, which are generally available by veterinary prescription and are usually applied to the back of the dog's neck, are considered the easiest and most effective way to get rid of lice on dogs. These medications can be used to prevent infestation by lice, fleas, and ticks. They are typically applied monthly to prevent parasitic infestation of the fur and skin. If infestation is already under way, they are usually applied bi-weekly for four to six weeks.

These topical treatments are considered effective and easy because they generally kill all adult lice on the skin at the time of application. They will also continue to kill new lice as they hatch.

Use Pet-Friendly Insecticides and Shampoo Treatment

Insecticide shampoos and lime-sulfur dips are generally considered safe and effective for removing lice on dogs. They should generally be used weekly or bi-weekly for four to six weeks if your dog is infested with lice.

Use a Lice Comb After Treatments

Lice are not easy to dislodge from your dog’s fur, even after washing the pup with insecticide shampoos. Combing with a lice comb after treatment can help remove dead lice, and their eggs, from the dog's fur and skin. However, when you comb through your dog's fur, the eggs, and dead lice will get lodged into the comb.

Experts recommend that you immerse the comb in a mixture of water and insecticide shampoo or other treatment to kill any lice that might hide in the comb. Some veterinarians even recommend replacing your grooming tools altogether because removing the sticky eggs from combs or brushes might be difficult.

Environmental Decontamination

Everything that your dog uses frequently or comes into contact with needs to get decontamination. Re-infestation usually happens because lice on the dog are dealt with but then your pup picks up a new colony from somewhere else.

If your dog has been diagnosed with lice, make sure you wash and steam everything that they use from beddings, dog sweaters, collars, leashes, blankets, etc. Nits (lice eggs) usually lodge themselves in your dog’s grooming tools and might be hard to get rid of even if you try. 

Thoroughly clean all areas where your dog likes to spend time, including your own bedding and furniture. A good wash and steaming should do the job of destroying all remaining pests who might have hidden.

Good Grooming

Lice are often found on dirty animals that live in unsanitary conditions. So, ensure your dogs are regularly groomed, and their living conditions are top-notch. Improve your dog's diet as well because lice prefer unhealthier pups.

Regular Check-Ups

Even after completing all treatments, your dog must take regular trips to the vet to confirm the infestation is gone. It doubles up as monitoring and prevention of future infestation or re-infestation. 

If your dogs love parks and places with other dogs, regular checkups can help mitigate lice infestation. 

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Can Dogs Transmit Lice to Humans?

Luckily, we can’t get lice from dogs. What’s more, we can’t transmit lice to dogs either. Lice are species-specific parasites, and the type of lice that live on humans cannot live on dogs. Additionally, those that live on cats and other animals cannot survive on dogs. 

Final Thoughts

Dogs are great emotional support animals and help bring out your jolly and playful side. There are claims that dogs can even tell when their owner’s mood changes, which also affects them. A happy dog equals a happy owner, and a happy owner equals a happy dog; it’s a loop effect.

Lice shouldn't bring down your ESA dog. Lice can't infest the pup if you keep your dog well-groomed and sanitary. We recommend regular visits to your vets for monitoring and checkups.

For more information on pet care and other helpful resources, visit Pettable's blog.

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.