How to Check for Lice on Cats

Pet owners should check for lice during routine grooming procedures. In order to detect lice in cats, it's important to know what lice look like and the symptoms associated with lice infections. Although cat lice are very similar in appearance to human lice, the type of insect that affects cats is specific to felines and cannot be transmitted to humans. Lice are insects that complete their life cycle of growth within 21 days. Blood sucking lice such as Felicola subrostratus attach themselves to the cat's skin, feed off the host and multiply. Pets suffering from lice also exhibit certain symptoms that enable pet owners to determine infection.

Symptoms of Lice in Cats Include:

  • Excessive itching
  • Redness accompanied by itching
  • Hair loss
  • Anemia
  • Dull coat

Detection of Feline Lice

Pet owners can detect lice early by careful examination of the cat's coat and skin. Feline lice are flat, wingless and oval shaped insects. They tend to attach themselves to areas around the cat's ears, head and neck. In addition, lice lay eggs, commonly known as nits. Feline nits are also visible to the naked eye as they appear like tiny grains, white in color. Cats suffering from severely matted fur may exhibit certain symptoms of lice infections. Pet owners should use a flea comb to detect any nits or insects collected on the comb.

Transmission of Feline Lice

Since feline lice are wingless insects, the common mode of transmission is direct contact with infected cats. Grooming tools serve as a carrier of nits and lice to other pets. However, feline lice are species specific and multiply only after feeding and thriving on the primary host. Feline lice are also unable to survive in the environment or surroundings for a prolonged period of time.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Feline Lice

Feline lice can also be clinically diagnosed through physical examination of affected parts of the body. The vet will look for dry or coarse hair and the presence of nits or lice on the skin and coat. If the lice infection is severe, the vet will perform a blood test to rule out anemia. Since feline lice can be transmitted to other cats living in the same household, it's best to start treatment early and take preventive measures to avoid re-infection.

Treatment Options for Feline Lice

There are various over the counter medicated shampoos and products that treat feline lice. If the cat is suffering from dermatitis and accompanying skin lesions, it's best to obtain a prescribed formula suited to individual cats. The only permanent way to remove nits attached to the coat of severely infected pets is shaving cat hair. Commercial medication such as Frontline and lime sulfur dips, safe for use on felines, are recommended for lice treatment. Since cat skin is more sensitive in comparison to a dog's, it's necessary to administer medication according to vet instructions. It's also best to avoid sudden discontinuation of treatment to prevent re-infection.

Although lice cause excessive itching and discomfort in pets, they can be easily controlled with medicated shampoos and dips. It's also necessary to groom and check hair coats of other pets living within close proximity to infected cats.