Lice Happens, But Do Pets Get Lice, Too?

The act of your child bringing home a head full of lice is disconcerting enough, but the thought of those unwelcome blood suckers spreading to an unsuspecting animal in your care is enough to give most pet owners an additional pang of guilt.

In reality, head lice will never elicit so much as an “ewwww,” or suspicious glance from a loving pet. A thoughtful purr or wagging tail will probably be the most severe response you’ll get. So, what do Fluffy and Fido know that we don’t?

Perhaps Fluffy and Fido know the scientific name for head lice is Pediculus Humanus Capitis (Humanus, of course, being the key word!). What a relief to know that humans cannot spread lice to their pets. The parasitic insect known as the human head louse can only survive on human blood. No matter which person in your household is affected and how severe the infestation, the pet cannot get head lice. This includes dutiful dogs who serve as living pillows, cats who quietly curl up on sleeping family members, and even birds who think shoulders make a fine perch.

The louse is a wingless insect that moves by crawling. It is a quick crawler but unlike many other bugs, the louse cannot hop or fly. It’s hard to imagine that something contagious, or easily spread from person to person, would stay confined to one type of warm body. Call it survival instinct, or a seriously strong will to live. Human lice will only make the journey of a thousand steps to some place where the combination of warmth and blood type is perfect grounds for living and breeding. That place could be you or another member of the household, but your pets will definitely be spared.

Would you give your cat zinc and vitamin C so she won’t catch your cold? Do you enjoy munching on the dog’s beef-flavored tick prevention tablets? Of course not! Preventive care is an excellent tool for wellness throughout the household but it’s not always the right call to action. A well-meaning pet owner who thinks, “Just in case,” and decides to pre-treat the pet for human head lice, only succeeds in exposing their pet to unnecessary stress, discomfort and illness from potentially harmful substances.

Being a good family pet is no easy feat. The job requires constant acceptance of us human owners, along with all the schedules, whims and conditions we impose. Our fine furry and feathered friends still offer unconditional affection and a judgment-free zone, and that can be a great source of comfort to lice-infected loved ones.

While delousing can be a challenging process, with the right information and support it’s not insurmountable. In the meantime, you can relax knowing that no amount of snuggles and rubs will pass human head lice to your family pets.