Lice in Cats


PetMD Editorial

Published Oct. 22, 2012

Feline Pediculosis

Lice are parasites that live on the skin. Left unchecked, they can grow to be an infestation on the cat’s body. Lice are actually very small insects that feed by chewing on the skin of the animal they are infesting, in this case, the cat. They are not as common as fleas; they are most often seen in situations where sanitary practices are poor.

Symptoms and Types of Cat Lice

Symptoms seen in infested cats include:

  • Excessive itchiness, scratching
  • A dry scruffy-looking coat
  • Hair loss, most often around the ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal area

Causes of Cat Lice

There is only one species of lice that infests cats: Felicola subrostrata.

Lice can be passed directly from one cat to another through direct contact or through contact with contaminated objects, such as grooming utensils or bedding.

Lice are species-specific. They do not move from one species to another. That means that you cannot get lice from your cat nor can your cat get human specific lice from you.

Diagnosis of Cat Lice

Diagnosis is easily made by visually observing lice or their nits (eggs) in the hair. Adult lice are flat, six-legged insects with no wings. Nits can be seen attached to the individual hair shafts and appear as small white dots.

Treatment for Cat Lice

There are a wide variety of shampoos, as well as insecticidal sprays and powders that are effective in killing lice. In addition, products such as fipronil and selamectin can also be used. (They come in various brand names.) It may be necessary to treat your cat more than once to kill the developing nits as they hatch. Follow your veterinarian’s directions closely, as these products can be harsh on some cats.

In cases where your cat’s fur is badly matted, it may be necessary to shave the fur to be sure of getting to the deeper lice and their nits.

To prevent reinfection, dispose of or wash all of your cat’s bedding, as well as thoroughly cleaning all of the places your cat spends time. Some items that cannot be laundered or washed down may be sealed tightly in plastic bags for a few weeks. Disinfect all grooming utensils and anything else your cat comes into contact with regularly, such as litter boxes and crates, and of course, all of the furniture, rugs, carpeting and hard flooring.

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