By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 11, 2024.
Pet owners often take their four-legged friends out for a walk or better yet to dog parks where their dogs are able to play and socialize with others.
However reports of dogs catching lice from each other at local parks have been increasing in frequency.
Warnings have been made on social media outlets such as Facebook by residents to users of Scenic Drive Bark Park, and the Riverstone dog park cautioning pet owners about several dogs catching lice from social interactions.
Highland Pet Hospital owner and veterinarian Kristen Gibson shared how easy it is for pets to pick up parasites such as lice in high-traffic areas.
“Anywhere that you are going to be in high traffic, lots of contact with other dogs, you’re going to run that risk of picking up parasites like lice or fleas. And being in southern Alberta with the weather super nice, it’s just usually a risk that we see kind of all year long. They typically need kind of more close contact with an animal that has lice,” said Gibson.
She explained the different types of lice and how they only affect specific species and how wildlife such as coyotes and foxes can spread lice to dogs.
“As far as lice goes, they’re pretty species-specific. There’s dog lice that only affects dogs. And cat lice only infects cats. And then human lice that usually affects humans.
Dog lice can be contracted from wildlife such as coyotes and foxes in southern Alberta, noted Gibson.
“It’s definitely going to be a risk,” shared Gibson.
Gibson explained the best preventative measures pet owners can take to prevent their pets from picking up parasites.
“Whenever you’re in those situations, the best thing to do preventatively would be to have them on treatment for parasites, sort of something that’s gonna protect them from fleas, lice, ticks. It’s the same thing that we use to treat an infection, or infestation – the medication can also be used as prevention.
“If it’s in their system, and they happen to get some mice or fleas or anything like that, when those parasites bite, they get that medication and die off. There are different formulations – you can do topical or oral. But that’s probably your easiest way and best way to make sure that your dogs don’t pick up lice from this.”
Gibson voiced it is unlikely that an owner can pick up the lice from their pet.
“The risk is pretty low.”
She said if a dog has picked up lice, the owner needs to get them into a vet. If that isn’t possible right away, she advised owners to wash their pet thoroughly although this will not remove all the lice.
There are certain signs, owners should look for, said Gibson.
“â€¦if they have lice you can usually see them, not always but there’ll be little, tiny kind of white flecks throughout their fur coat. But generally the dog will be pretty itchy. That very ichiness will kind of vary between dogs. Their coat might not look as nice as it usually does. So sometimes it can be dry, sometimes they’ll end up looking a little bit rougher. But it’s usually pretty obvious.”
Gibson emphasized the importance preventative measures and cleaning a pet’s environment if they have lice.
“Prevention really is key, especially when you’re in kind of higher risk situation where you’re in those places where you’re gonna come into contact with a lot of other dogs.
“If your dog is diagnosed with lice, it’s just really important to clean their environment really well. Wash their bedding, that kind of stuff just to make sure we’re not missing any of those parasites in the environment,” she said.