Do cats carry lice?

Internal and external parasites are common concerns of pet parents. Aside from the immense discomfort these parasites cause the pet, infestation can also lead to various health concerns. Most cat owners have dealt with the need to eradicate fleas, ticks and mites as these are common octoparasites of cats. Although uncommon, cats can have another kind of creepy crawlies on their furs. Lice are another kind of external parasites that a cat can carry.

Lice can affect all living creatures. There are different subtypes of lice as these parasites are “host specific” which means that the type of lice that thrive on the dog’s fur cannot infect other animals. The lice humans have would not thrive on dogs and on other animals. The lice cats have are wingless small insects that usually have white or pale yellow bodies and brownish colored heads. The eggs of lice are called nits. These white rice grain-shaped eggs are firmly attached to the shaft of the cat’s hair. By parting the hair of a lice infested cat, the owner would see the nits in groups. Lice are small but they can be easily seen by the naked eye. These parasites are slow moving and often mistaken for dandruff. There are three kinds of lice – one is blood sucking and the other two are biting. The biting kinds are less harmful but irritating as they feed on dead skin. The blood sucking kind would dig into the host’s skin and feed on the blood. The lice that commonly infest cats are the biting type known as Felicola subrustratus. Lice infestation is not very common in cats probably because of the fastidious grooming habits of these animals. Lice infestation is more common in stray cat colonies or in outdoor pets as these animals have high opportunities to have direct contact with infested cats. Cats with poor health, cats with improper nutrition, very old and very young cats are at greater risk for lice infestation.

Cat lice can be transmitted through direct contact. Cats that play and groom each other would easily spread the infestation. Lice can be passed on from an infected cat to another through the use of grooming tools. Brushes and fine toothed comb used to groom lice infested cats can pick up the parasites. Lice infestation would spread if the grooming tools are used on other cats. Adult lice as well as eggs and nymph can be picked up by another cat that used the beddings and the cage of an infested cat.

A cat that is infected with lice would have a dry and scruffy looking coat. Bloodsucking lice would cause immense itching. Incessant biting and scratching can result to bleeding bald patches that can get infected. A cat severely infected with bloodsucking lice would have pale gums…a sign that the cat is already suffering from anemia.

Cats are known for their inclination to groom but cats infested with external parasites would groom the fur more excessively. Most lice infestations in cats tend to be mild. Cats spend long hours grooming the fur thus adult lice and nits are oftentimes removed by the cats themselves. A cat parent would have to do a good deal of lice hunting on the cat’s coat although the nits can be easily seen and removed. Cat lice can be eradicated by the same products used to resolve flea infestation. As mentioned, lice that infect cats are different from the lice that infest humans. Cat owners must not use human lice medication on the pet. Any kind of external parasite infestation can be prevented with regular grooming. Owners must carefully check the pet’s fur every grooming session.