Does my dog have head lice?

Head lice are rubbish, and I’m sure all of us have had at least one bout in our lives with this annoying little pest. Whether you’re here because you’ve found a parasite that looks like head lice, or just out of sheer curiosity, we’re here to answer whether dogs can get head lice off of humans or not.

The short answer is no – dogs can’t get head lice. The answer as to why not is slightly more complicated, as is what the parasite you might have found on your dog might be. But rest-assured, if your kids have brought nits home from school then they cannot give it to your dog!

Dogs get a different kind of lice

The primary reason dogs don’t get head lice is that the lice that infest humans and those that affect dogs are different species.

head lice on dogs
Different lice have evolved to feed on different species of animals. Due to the difference between human hair and dog fur, human head lice are not adapted to feeding on your dog.

Human head lice, scientifically known as Pediculus humanus capitis, are highly adapted to live on the human scalp, feeding on blood from the scalp’s blood vessels. Put simply, those lice are unable to live off of dogs, and could not survive on a dog. Lice biology gets complicated. The key thing to note is that there are many, many lice species – not just those suited to the human scalp!

So dogs don’t get off lice-free – they can’t get head lice, but can be hosts to a variety of lice species that are specially adapted to their fur and skin.

Species-Specific Adaptations

Lice are highly specialized parasites that have evolved to live on specific host species. While human head lice have evolved to navigate the structure of human hair and feed on human blood, dog lice, such as Trichodectes canis and Linognathus setosus, have evolved to live on the coarser fur of dogs. 

These adaptations include specialized mouthparts for grasping and feeding on the hair and feathers of their specific hosts.

Lice are adapted to skin and hair

The differences in the structure and composition of human and canine skin and hair also contribute to the inability of head lice to infest dogs. Human hair has a different texture, diameter, and growth pattern than dog fur. The architecture of dog skin and hair makes it an inhospitable environment for human head lice to thrive.

Species of lice that affect dogs

So, if you’ve found some kind of lice on your dog, know that they aren’t head lice. They may look awfully similar – lice look pretty much the same to anyone who’s not a biologist who specialises in these little blighters. Unlucky for dogs, they actually attract two main species of lice.

The two main types of lice that affect dogs are chewing lice (Mallophaga) and sucking lice (Anoplura). Chewing lice feed on skin debris and hair. Sucking lice feed on the blood of their host. These lice are well-adapted to the canine environment and can cause discomfort and skin irritation in infested dogs.

Preventing lice in dogs

Much like human head lice, there’s no shame in your dog catching lice. It’s a misconception that keeping clean can prevent both humans from catching head lice, and dogs from catching lice. The most common ways that dogs catch lice is either from other dogs or from contaminated environments such as bedding which has already got lice eggs in.

Lice often have little to do with cleanliness and hygiene – they're typically just caught from fellow dogs at the park.

It may also be a sign that your dog’s immune system is weakened – this can make them more susceptible to picking up parasitic hosts. Lice are particularly common in puppies and older dogs.

If your dog comes into contact with a lice host, it’s at risk of picking up the lice. That means simply playing with other dogs or attending doggy daycare can put them at risk. Nonetheless, good hygiene, regular grooming, and inspecting your pet for signs of infestation on a regular basis are the best ways to prevent any lice infestations.

How to treat lice in dogs

So it’s too late – your dog has lice. Now, how do you get rid of them? Firstly, we highly suggest speaking to your vet to determine the most effective and safe treatment for your dog. If lice are detected, there are a number of topical treatments and medicated shampoos which can eliminate the parasites too. Here’s a step-by-step approach to dealing with the lice.

Step 1: Speaking to your vet

Again, some people can feel ashamed that their dog has lice – but don’t be. They’re really easy to pick up. Don’t let any shame stop you from speaking to your vet.

Before starting any treatment, consult with your veterinarian. They can confirm the presence of lice, recommend appropriate treatments, and ensure that your chosen approach is safe and suitable for your dog’s health and specific circumstances.

Step 2: Isolate Infected Dogs

If you have multiple pets, consider isolating the infected dog to prevent the lice from spreading to others. This is particularly important in multi-pet households or in environments where dogs interact closely. And also ensure your dog doesn’t interact with any others on walks.

Step 3: Grooming and Cleaning

Thoroughly groom your dog using a fine-toothed comb to remove adult lice and their eggs (nits). Pay close attention to areas where lice are most likely to be found, such as around the neck, shoulders, and base of the tail. Typically, clumps of fur are a louse’s favourite spot. Dispose of collected lice properly – we suggest double bagging them in a sealable plastic bag and immediately chucking them in the outdoor trash.

Wash your dog’s bedding, toys, and any other items that may harbour lice. Use hot water and dry the items at a high temperature to help eliminate lice and their eggs.

dog with lice in the bath
A fine-toothed comb, washing all your dogs stuff, and bathing your dog are some of the most important weapons in your arsenal against lice.

Step 4: Topical Treatments

Your veterinarian may recommend topical treatments, such as medicated shampoos or spot-on treatments, to kill lice. Follow the instructions on the product carefully, and be sure to use a product specifically designed for dogs. Some treatments may need to be repeated after a certain period for complete elimination.

Step 5: Prescription Medications

In severe infestations, your veterinarian may prescribe oral medications to help control lice. These medications are usually administered under the supervision of a veterinarian, and their use depends on the specific circumstances of the infestation.

Step 6: Environmental Control

Continue to clean and vacuum your home regularly to remove any remaining lice or eggs. Pay attention to areas where your dog spends a lot of time, such as carpets, furniture, and pet bedding.

Step 7: Prevent Reinfestation

Take steps to prevent your dog from being reinfested. This includes avoiding contact with infested dogs, practising good hygiene, and keeping your dog’s living environment clean.

Step 8: Follow-Up Vet Visits

Schedule follow-up visits with your veterinarian as recommended. This is important to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and ensure that the lice infestation has been successfully eliminated.

Lice-free living

If lice weren’t such a pain in the neck (and certainly your dog’s neck) then they’d be kind of fascinating. The world of evolution means that even lice have adapted to different hosts. While dogs may be spared from human head lice, they are not entirely immune to the pesky parasites. Understanding the differences between human and canine lice helps pet owners take appropriate measures to keep their furry friends happy, healthy, and free from unwanted infestations.


  • Frank
    November 27, 2023 at 20:35

    you can also try using coconut oil as a natural remedy in your dog’s fur to cure any lice issues, especially when combing through with a nit comb as it can help catch all the little blighters! And the coconut oil contains anti-microbial properties which help prevent the lice

  • Debbie
    November 28, 2023 at 11:01

    DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF CLEANING THEIR BEDDING! Our dog got lice 3 times back to back and we thought she was just unlucky. Then realised the eggs were in her bedding and our carpet. They are a really pain to get rid of

Add a comment