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All About Cat Lice

Cat itching from lice
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Severity: i Low
Life stage: All

Cat lice chew on the skin of cats, causing itchiness and discomfort. The one lice species that affects cats is known as Felicola subrostratus. People cannot get lice from cats, but cats can transmit lice to other felines. Most flea products will also treat and kill lice. If your cat has lice, it's important to thoroughly clean your home.

Lice are gross little bugs that chew on our cats, making them incredibly itchy. Cats can spread this infestation of bugs to other cats in your home. Luckily, cat lice infections are rare and easy to treat. 

Read more to understand why cats get lice, how to tell if your cat has lice, and what the treatment entails.

Can Cats Get Lice?

Yes, cats can get lice. Lice are small insects without wings, and measure about 1-2 mm in length. If you look closely, you can actually see lice moving about on cat fur. They are usually off white to tan in color. 

The one species that infests cats (and cats only) is known as Felicola subrostratus. Its nickname is the feline chewing louse.

Can You Get Lice from Cats? 

Each species or type of lice is very picky about what type of animal it infests. So no, humans cannot get lice from cats, and cats cannot get lice from humans. Same story with dogs and cats—they cannot share lice. 

However, cats can spread lice to other cats, dogs to other dogs, and humans to other humans.

Symptoms of Lice on Cats

Cat lice symptoms

Lice essentially live off of debris on the skin, so cats experience intense pruritus, or itchiness, from the lice chewing on their skin. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent scratching or chewing of themselves
  • Fur coat that is not well groomed, appears generally unkempt
  • Off-white specks seen on cat fur, especially on the head and shoulders
  • Scratches or irritation and redness on the skin (from excessive scratching)
  • Fur loss (sometimes)

How Do Cats Get Lice?

cat lice in fur

Lice is mostly spread through direct contact, meaning the cats have to actually touch each other. It is also possible to spread lice through indirect contact. If lice eggs end up on a brush or other grooming supplies it is possible to spread lice to another cat if the item is not cleaned properly. This is less likely than direct contact because lice dries up and dies when not with the host. The longest length of time these insects can live without their host is seven days.

Cats typically get lice when living in poor, dirty conditions indoors or outdoors. They must live around other cats in order to contract the parasite. When cats live in poor conditions, they often suffer from a poor diet and lack of medical care, which leads to the development of a number of other medical concerns as well.

Diagnosing Cat Lice

While you may be able to see lice on your cat with the naked eye, it is impossible to positively identify whether the insect on your cat is lice without a microscope. A veterinarian will note symptoms consistent with lice and likely see insects on your cat’s fur. 

A simple test for lice consists of using regular clear tape to stick some of the insects off of the fur onto the tape. Sometimes a veterinarian will pluck a few hairs from your cat that have insects or eggs attached. A quick look under the microscope of either sample will identify lice.

Cat Lice Treatment

Cat at the veterinarian

Lice is fairly easy to treat on an individual cat. Certain flea products will kill the adult lice but not their eggs. Since eggs take two to three weeks to hatch, it is important that a cat with lice be treated two or three times, every two weeks to get rid of the infestation. Talk to your veterinarian about the best products and instructions for treating lice on your cat. 

Bathing your cat is not necessary to get rid of the lice.

Home Remedies for Cat Lice

Home treatments are not very effective in controlling cat lice. Some home remedies include washing the cat with dish soap or combing the cat thoroughly. These methods do not physically remove all the lice, do not kill the lice, and will likely leave behind eggs that hatch, releasing new adult lice onto your cat.

Controlling lice in a home will not be possible unless all cats are treated effectively for lice, the home is cleaned, and all the bedding is washed and dried. 

If you find lice on your cat, your home likely needs cleaning before lice can be controlled. Products meant to control fleas in the home will be effective against lice. Any bedding or linens the cat comes into contact with should be washed and dried, as the high temperatures dry out and kill lice. Any tools used for grooming cats, such as brushes, should be thoroughly cleaned. 

Medications Used to Treat Cat Lice

Flea products that contain any one of the following will be highly effective in killing lice:

  • Fipronil
  • Imidacloprid
  • Selamectin

Some of these products require veterinary approval and prescription, while others do not. Regardless of what product you use on your cat, it is very important to be sure that the product is labeled specifically for cats, NOT dogs. If your cat is given a dog product, it could be deadly.

General Cost to Treat Lice on Cats

Flea products cost approximately $15 per dose, so treatment of each cat will cost approximately $45. With a veterinary examination and quick microscope test, your total costs will be approximately $150.

Keep in mind that some cats may have other underlying medical conditions or, if they have matted fur, may require professional grooming that will add to the costs.

How to Prevent Cat Lice

Applying a monthly flea preventive onto your cat will prevent fleas as well as lice infestation, even after direct exposure. All cats should be fed a high quality diet, and their home should be generally clean and tidy. Regular veterinary care on a yearly basis will ensure that your cat stays healthy.