Head lice is a common condition that affects children, especially those in grade school, as well as some adults. They are just one of a number of similar tiny parasites that can infest the skin and hair of living things, causing an infestation called pediculosis. Animals can be susceptible to these parasites as well, and some pet parents ask me about about lice and their pets:
“Can the cat in my home get head lice from my children?”
“Can my children get head lice from the cat?”
Cats do get lice, although lice are not as common as other parasites such as fleas. Lice in cats is more often associated with poor conditions including a lack of hygiene and sanitation as well as poor nutrition and overall poor health.
There are over 3,000 species of lice in the world, but a mere 3 of them are considered agents of disease in humans. The rest, however, are typically species-specific; that is, they seem to show a preference for a certain type of host. That means that some species will tend to feed only on humans, some only on cats, others only on dogs, etc. Dogs can get two types of lice, Linognathus setosus and Trichodectes canis. Cats get only one type of lice called Felicola subrostrata.
What this means is that the species which infest humans are not a risk for infesting pets and vice versa. If a child acquires a case of pediculosis, the cats in the home are not at risk of acquiring head lice.
Bear in mind that although human head lice are very contagious to other humans, they are not an indicator of poor hygiene. Treatment of head lice in humans includes various treatments to the hair, scalp, clothing, and bedding. Treating an infested pet requires similar precautions. Removal of the eggs (nits) is critical in ending the infestation.
If you suspect your child or pet has head lice, please call your health care provider or vet for treatment recommendations as soon as possible to avoid further infestations.