Cat Lice Identification

Cat lice can be seen with the human eye. However, it’s rare to see lice on a healthy cat. Cats that are young, old, have longer hair, are unable to groom themselves or are ill, tend to get them more often. You shouldn’t worry too much if lice are detected on your pet, as cat lice cannot be transmitted to humans.

Cat Lice

Lice are ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside part of their host’s body, at the host’s expense. They are flat, wingless insects that are about 2 to 4 mm long and have triangular-shaped heads that are wider than their prothorax (mid-section). They have specialized claws on their 6 legs that are good at holding on tightly to a cat’s fur, but they can’t jump or fly. There is one type of louse that lives on cats, the Felicola subrostrata (from the suborder Mallophaga), which bites or chews on a feline’s skin, dry skin scales or scurf.

Female Felicola subrostrata, which are more commonly seen than males, live as an adult louse for only 30 days. During that time, she will lay several eggs every day on a cat, which will hatch in one or two weeks. Lice larvae have three nymphal stages, will molt three times and will be completely mature within three weeks. The lifespan of a louse is 6 weeks or less if it lives on a host. Without a host, a louse will die.

Identifying Cat Lice

Cat lice infestations happen more in environments that are unsanitary. Lice and their eggs are transmitted via direct contact. However, they can also be transmitted through the use of combs, brushes and other cat grooming tools that were not washed properly between uses. When lice infest a cat, they can typically be found on the neck, tail or head.

At first, lice may look like dandruff. But after looking at the speck closely, you'll see that it's tan in color with dark spots, and is moving. The main identifying factor of lice on a cat is the triangular shape of its head. However, it’s more common to see the eggs, or “nits”, than an actual louse.  Lice will lay their eggs close to a cat’s skin. The eggs are small, like a poppy seed, and are usually clear. Lice saliva is so strong that it is used to stick eggs tightly to a cat’s hair shaft as if it were adhered with glue. If possible, a louse will spend its entire life on the same host.

Cat Lice Symptoms

A cat with lice problems will have a dry coat that will have flaky skin or dandruff coming off. As a result of the irritations, a cat may start losing its hair. If there are a lot of lice, a cat can become anemic. He will also feel itchy, as the area the lice reside on is irritated. Some cats will not be able to sleep, will feel nervous and will have a matted coat.

Cat lice can be as aggravating as fleas. Fortunately, flea shampoos can help eliminate lice from a cat’s body. Consult with your veterinarian for more treatment options when your cat has lice.