Is your dog scratching a lot? Are they having trouble sleeping (restless)? Is the coat dry and “scruffy” looking? They may have Alberta’s most prevalent canine parasite – lice! Canine Biting Lice are very common in Alberta, especially during the winter and spring months. Recent years have been especially ‘good’ years for lice, with some veterinarians reporting up to a 300% increase in the number of lice cases seen at their clinics.
If your dog is diagnosed with lice, it does not mean that they are dirty or unhygienic, only that they have come in contact with another dog that has lice. This can occur anywhere that your dog comes in contact with an infected pet, such as the vet, kennel, off-leash areas, or even walking around your neighborhood.
Lice are insects that can be seen with the naked eye. They possess no wings. They are very host-specific and do not tend to leave their preferred animal, in this case dogs and puppies. Transmission of lice is by direct contact with an infested pet. Unlike fleas and ticks, lice do not live or travel in the environment.
What is the Canine Biting Louse?
The dog louse, or canine biting louse, is about 1.5 millimeters in length with a flattened body and a broad, flat head. Each of the six legs (three pairs) is armed with a strong claw for holding onto the host, even in the face of frantic biting and scratching. In addition to causing severe itching and loss of sleep, lice can act as the intermediate host for the dog tapeworm. Females lay up to 100 eggs or nits, which are “cemented” to the base of the dog’s hairs. The life cycle takes about 21 days to complete.
Since the entire louse life cycle is spent on the hosts, louse control primarily involves isolating and treating infested dogs with insecticides. There is no need to treat indoor carpets, vehicle interiors, dog beds or backyard soils or vegetation as required with other canine pests such as fleas and ticks, simply keep your dog away from those areas (such as not letting them in the car) for 24 hours, and any lice temporarily in the environment will have expired. Lice have poor survival capability when off the dog.
What Can You Do?
Often adding additional Vitamin B to the dog’s diet helps fight louse infestations. Lice infestation is typically diagnosed by identification of adults and nits on the affected dog. The most noted sign of a louse infestation is a scruffy, dry hair coat. Hair loss may occur and the animal may itch, at times severely.
In very heavy infestations of lice you may detect anemia, especially in puppies. A diagnosis can usually be accomplished with the naked eye. Nits tend to be more visible than the actual louse, but both can be seen. Since the nits are quite resistant to most insecticides, a repeat treatment after an interval of several weeks is required to kill young lice that may have hatched. Treatment is very simple. Bathe with a pyrethrin shampoo. Repeat this process for two to four weeks. Of all the canine parasites, lice are the easiest to eliminate, and they pose no threat to you or your children.