There are few things that groomers see that elicit an “ewwww” from us. Lice is one of those things. It is rare and we normally don’t see it often enough to know what we’re dealing with. So naturally, we assume the worst.
Lice are grayish, brownish or tannish wingless, flat insects that are 2 to 4 mm or less than one eight inch long. They are hard to spot as they resemble specks of dirt. Their feet have claws that cling to hair follicles.
There are two types of canine lice.
- Linognathus setosus. This is the more common of the two. They feed on blood by biting and sucking.
- Heterodoxus spiniger and Trichodectus canus. They feed on dead skin flakes. While rarer, they are intermediate host to tapeworms and filarial worms.
There is only one type of feline lice and it is Felicola subrostratus.
Female lice can lay up to 100 eggs at a time. Infestation happens quickly. The eggs or nits look like white dots near the skin. The egg attaches to the hair follicle with a glue. Which is why the eggs are so hard to get rid of. They hatch in two to three weeks.
Signs of infestation include scratching, rubbing and biting at site. Coats are rough looking and thinning. Matting occurs in long coated breeds. Area looks irritated and you may see red, rash like bumps.
Lice are found in nature and are most attracted to unhealthy or poorly nourished pets. In cats, predominately elderly and long haired breeds that no longer groom themselves are affected. Lice can exacerbate existing medical conditions, transmit other parasites, cause skin irritations and anemia.
The adults cannot survive without a host for more than a couple of days. They move slowly and do not jump from host to host. Lice spread through physical contact. Pets that play with or share common areas such as bedding and crates with an infested pet are susceptible. Professional grooming is probably the most common form of transmission, but daycares and dogparks are another good source.
Because they are hard to spot, a small infestation may go unnnoticed by a groomer. This is why we should never reuse towels or Happy Hoodies and always disinfect or sanitize tools, leads, loops, table tops and crates in between uses. It can also spread when an infested pet rubs up against our clothing and then the next currently uninfested pet does the same. That pet may not stay uninfested.
The good news is that adult lice is easy to kill and is species specific. Dog lice is transmitted only to other dogs and cat lice is transmitted only to other cats. Almost any shampoo left on the pet for at least 10 minutes kills adult lice. Shampoos containing either pyretherins or natural pesticidal essential oils is best. Pick off all eggs. Mayonaise does loosen the glue on the eggs and daily lemon rinses helps kill eggs. To make a lemon rinse, boil sliced lemons in water and allow to sit overnight. Both natural and chemical pesticide products are effective in preventing lice. Follow the manufacturers directions.
As each cycle takes 21 days, weekly baths are necessary until you are certain all eggs are destroyed. Sanitize all infested areas and wash and dry all bedding in hot water and high heat. Pregnant, nursing, puppies, kittens, elderly and immune compromised needs veterinary intervention for safe removal of lice.
Prevention is the best recipe for defense against lice. Start with a healthy, well nourished pet and add equal amounts of clean environment and good sanitation procedures in between pets at your grooming facility. While you may not be able to prevent infested pets from coming into your facility, you can prevent transmission.