Can dogs get head lice and transfer them to humans? (or vice versa)

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

Have you noticed your dog scratching itself a little too much lately?

Are you worried that it’s got head lice?

Are you afraid that the lice may transfer from your dog’s hair to yours?

Here’s your answer

No. the lice are species-specific, and they don’t transmit between humans and dogs. Human lice need human body temperature and dog lice need the dog’s body temperature to survive. Even if they move from dog to human or vice versa, they won’t be able to survive for more than 24 hours.

Itchy Dog? She May Have Lice!

But what does a dog’s head lice look like and how can you treat it? Read ahead in the article.

Can lice transfer between humans and dogs?

No, dogs do not transfer lice to humans. These parasites are very species-specific, meaning that dogs or cats or any other mammal lice will stay on them only because they need their body temperature to survive.

If it’s a human’s head lice, they will stay on a human’s head only. This is because lice don’t really like different temperatures that are either too hot or too cold and stay on their selected mammals or humans only.

Even if you rub and snuggle with your dog, chances are that you may get a louse (singular for lice) to fall on your hair, but they won’t be able to survive for more than 24 hours. Because again, they are very species-specific and they’ll thrive on the species they have chosen.

How does a dog’s head lice look like?

A dog’s head lice are about 3mm long and are of brown or yellow color. They are flat and six-legged insects and they are specie specific. This means that the dog lice will be big enough to hang onto only a dog’s hair and the human lice will be long enough to hang onto only a human’s hair. Adult lice are very easily visible from the naked eye, but you may confuse them for dandruff.

If you’re not sure whether it’s head lice or dandruff, shake your dog’s hair. If you see tiny flakes falling down on the floor, that’s just dandruff. But if it sticks to the hair or you can see it moving on the skin, then it’s definitely lice.  

Here’s a video of how dog lice look’s like under a microscope:

How to know if your dog has head lice?

There are many signs to look out for if you think your dog’s got lice. But before that, one easy thing you can do to check for lice is swipe your hands across the dog’s hair and you may be able to see lice.

There is a chewing louse that will be moving around on the skin, or a sucking louse which obviously will mostly be sucking from their skin or hanging on the hair of your dog.

Apart from the above-mentioned points, you need to look out for the following things:

  • Frequent scratching and itching
  • Rough and dry patches of hair
  • Hair loss especially near the ears, neck, shoulders, etc
  • Small wounds or infections from a sucking lice bite

Here’s a video that can help you tell if your dog has head lice or not:

How can a dog get infected by lice?

Does your dog visit dog day-cares?

Visits parks too frequently?

Participates or attends dog shows?

Even if one of the above questions were answered with a yes, then that’s exactly how your dog got lice. Dogs can transmit lice between each other. If they stay in one place for too long or meet too many dogs around, any of the dogs could have infected your dog with lice.

So, make sure your dog does not really come in contact with other dogs until its own lice are cleared properly because that will just cause lice transmission to other dogs.

Lice in humans

The stigma around the lice is very negative and people start to get all judgemental and grossed out as soon as they find out about head lice in an adult or even a child. And they start thinking that only unhygienic and nasty people tend to get lice often. But the truth is that lice has nothing to do with an individual’s hygiene.

Lice are very contagious and spread from person to person in many ways:

  • Schools
  • Offices
  • Day-cares
  • Sharing of hair accessories like hats, hair bands, helmets etc
  • Playgroups
  • Relatives

There may be nits, nymphs, or even adult lice moving around on the scalp.

You’ll have to start using anti-lice shampoos and medications, washing of beddings and toys etc thoroughly in order to remove the lice completely.

Lice in dogs and how to treat them?

Lice tend to affect dogs that are:

  • Unhealthy
  • Old
  • Stray
  • Dirty
  • Sick

If your dog has been infected with lice, you need to do the following regardless of the way it was transmitted:

  1. Cut their hair length short
  2. Use a lice comb to brush out the lice whether dead or alive
  3. Visit your vet to get proper shampoos and medication to treat lice
  4. Clean the sleeping area of your dog thoroughly
  5. Repeat the cleansing ritual for at least a month to ensure no re-infestation takes place
  6. Stay consistent with these methods
  7. Ensuring cleanliness and sanitization at day-cares, etc.

Here’s a very effective dog lice shampoo from chewy if you’re looking for one.

By doing few of the above things, your dog will surely become lice-free. Also, the cleanliness around its frequent hang out places will ensure that no lice gets back in the hair again.

With all the preventions and medications that your dog gets, general vaccines have made it near impossible for lice to live in your dog’s hair.

Therefore, lice are not a very big threat to your four-legged child anymore. And with just a few cleanliness and hygiene rules, your dog will surely stay lice and knit-free.

Related questions

Can lice live on pillows?

No. Lice cannot live away from the mammal or humans for more than 24 hours. To be on the safe side, try and vacuum your carpets and furniture and wash your bedding and pillows on the highest machine temperatures to kill them.

What do lice hate?

The scents of mango, tea tree oil, and rosemary are most hated by lice. You can look out for these scents in your shampoo and can also use the anti-lice sprays that come for everyday use to stay away from lice.

Does apple cider vinegar kill lice?

A few studies support this idea and say that apple cider vinegar is indeed very helpful in getting rid of lice and preventing them from coming back. But there’s also a 2004 study that completely negates this study.

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