Many parents deal with the unpleasant reality of having their school-aged children bring home head lice -- a parasitic insect that lives in your hair. You might be scratching your head wondering if these blood suckers could spread beyond your child and infest your dog as well. Because human head lice can survive only on human blood, any lice that may find their way onto your dog will quickly die and pose no threat.
Human Head Lice
In the United States approximately 12 million cases of head lice occur every year among kids ages 3 to 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Human head lice live along the scalp, are often found behind the ears and on the back of the neck, and feed on human blood several times a day. Lice spread by crawling and can move from person to person or between objects such as from one coat to another. A single adult female can lay six eggs a day. Head lice can be difficult to remove, even with over-the-counter and prescription treatments. Despite the nuisance these insects cause, people cannot spread lice to their dogs.
Although your dog is safe from human head lice, he may develop canine lice. There are two types of canine lice: one that lives by chewing on a dog’s skin and one that survives by sucking canine blood. Much like human head lice, canine lice are spread through direct contact, so your dog may catch lice from one of his furry friends. Canine lice also can be spread through infected bedding or grooming tools. Dogs with canine lice will scratch excessively, appear unusually scruffy and may experience hair loss. Just as human lice cannot live on dogs, canine lice cannot survive on humans so your dog will not spread his lice to his human companions.
Treating Canine Lice
Canine lice are relatively easily to treat compared to other parasites dogs experience. Over-the-counter and prescription treatments include shampoos, sprays and powders, although it may be necessary to apply these products more than once. Owners should dispose of all bedding and disinfect areas where your dog spends a lot of time including cages, couches or carpets. Canine lice are typically treated at home, but dogs with severe infestations of sucking lice may develop anemia due to the blood loss and require medical attention.
Lice or Fleas
While lice are species-specific and can survive only on either humans or dogs, fleas are a closely related parasite that can effect both people and their dogs. Unlike lice that crawl from person to person, fleas can leap up 2 feet in the air and can travel the length of three football fields when looking for a new host. While they prefer to live on cats and dogs, fleas can survive on human blood as well. People typically experience flea bites on their ankles, elbows, knees or waist. Fleas can be extremely difficult to get rid of and often require a combination of several products to tackle an infestation.
Jen Gehring is a political consultant and college law professor. She holds a J.D. from American University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Cincinnati. She began working as a professional writer in 2010.