Lice are one of the most talked-about parasites. This makes sense because they are still much more common than what most people would expect, as shown by the CDC estimates that 6 to 11 million infestations are happening among children from the ages of 3 to 11 on an annual basis in the United States. These parasites are notorious for the rate at which they spread from host to host, so cat owners might be curious about whether cats can get them or not. If so, they should know that the answer is a qualified “Yes.”
What Kind of Lice Do Cats Get?
To understand this, interested individuals need to know more about lice. For starters, Wikipedia says that they aren’t a single species so much as a collection of close to 5,000 species within the order Psocodea. In other words, barklice aren’t a branch of lice. Instead, lice are a branch of barklice. Furthermore, lice are ectoparasites rather than endoparasites. That means that they live outside of their hosts rather than inside of their hosts. As a whole, lice have a wide range of targets. There are lice species targeting every single kind of warm-blooded animal other than bats, pangolins, and monotremes. The same cannot be said for individual lice species because they are highly specialized.
To name some examples, consider the three kinds of human lice in existence. First, there are head lice. Second, there are body lice. Third, there are pubic lice. Strictly speaking, head lice and body lice are considered to be subspecies of Pediculus humanus. This is why they bear the scientific names Pediculus humanus capitis and Pediculus humanus humanus respectively. Meanwhile, pubic lice would be Pthirus pubis. It is interesting to note that head lice and body lice diverged from chimpanzee lice 6 to 7 million years ago. This is around the same time that hominids diverged from chimpanzees.
Curiously, pubic lice diverged from gorilla lice about 3 to 4 million years ago, which suggests that there was some kind of host switch that happened then. The nature of lice can even tell us about our origins. DNA analysis has revealed that African lice are more genetically-diverse than non-African lice. Said finding supports the hypothesis that humans share a recent African origin because the time it takes for genetic diversity to build up suggests that lice existed in Africa before other parts of the world.
Physically, human lice are unimpressive creatures even by the standards of parasites. Lice are wingless insects, so they can’t fly. Human lice aren’t capable of jumping like fleas because their legs are too short and too stubby for that kind of exertion. If there is one thing that they are good at, it would be clinging on to human hair, though even that isn’t true for body lice. Amusingly, that kind of lice lives on clothing, which makes their name a bit misleading.
By this point, chances are good that interested individuals can guess that human lice aren’t very good at spreading on their own. Instead, infestations happen through close contact. Children are more susceptible to lice infestation than adults because children are likelier to engage in close contact with one another. However, even this isn’t enough to enable human lice to survive on other species because most lice species are so specialized that they can’t survive on anything other than their specific target. This means that human lice can’t survive on cats. Conversely, this means that cat lice can’t survive on humans.
Yes, cats have cat lice called Felicola subrostrata. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, their lice are similar to their human-bound counterparts in a lot of ways. They are still ectoparasites that cling to the hair of their hosts. Furthermore, they are still prone to gluing their eggs onto the hairs close to the surface of the skin, thus resulting in such a secure hold that they can’t be removed through normal shampooing. The experience is unpleasant for much the same reasons that humans getting lice is unpleasant. Plus, cat lice can spread cat diseases, so that is something that interested individuals will need to watch out for.
How Do Cats Get Lice?
Speaking of which, PetMD says that cats get lice in much the same way that humans get lice. That is to say, it happens through close contact of one kind or another. Cat lice aren’t very good at getting anywhere on their own. Most of the time, a cat gets lice by coming into contact with an already infested cat. Besides that, it is also possible for a cat to get lice by coming into contact with contaminated objects. This includes objects such as bedding and utensils. Due to this, interested individuals should be very careful about putting their cats around strange cats.
How Do You Know that a Cat Has Lice?
A cat that has been infested with lice can show various symptoms. First, there is the excessive itchiness that can cause them to engage in excessive scratching. Second, there is hair loss, which is common around the ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal area. Third, such cats may have a dryer, scruffier-looking coat than they do under normal circumstances.
None of these symptoms are unique to cat lice. Cat owners who suspect their cat is infested should check for the presence of lice and eggs. If they are lucky, the lice and their eggs are visible when parting the cat’s hair. In some cases, cat owners might need a magnifying glass to make out the lice and their eggs. They are difficult to spot using the naked eye.
What Can You Do About Cat Lice?
Cat owners who have spotted the lice and their eggs have various options available to them. They might be tempted to buy the first insecticide that they see before spraying their cat with the stuff. That is a very bad idea. Insecticides are formulated to kill insects, so they won’t necessarily have any effect on cats. The issue is that some insecticides are capable of harming cats anyways. Worse still, that can happen sooner than expected because cats are so much smaller than humans This means they can be affected at lower concentrations of the relevant chemicals than we can.
Cat owners should go for sprays, shampoos, and other products that are specifically designed to get rid of lice. This is important because the manual method for getting rid of lice is tedious. It’s also time-consuming, and not guaranteed to work out well. Cat owners can get rid of the lice and eggs by going over their cat’s coat with a fine-toothed comb. Any lice that get dislodged should be tossed into a sealable bag. They do die on their own within a matter of days unless they manage to make it back onto a cat. However, the bag is important. Missing any eggs means the lice will make a comeback.
Lice and Eggs
Like it was said earlier, the eggs tend to be securely glued close to the surface of the skin, so that is a very real concern. For success, interested individuals are going to need to go over their cat’s coat multiple times to get rid of absolutely everything, thus making an already challenging job that much more so. Then again, even if cat owners are using specifically-designed anti-lice products, they are going to need to go over their cat’s coat multiple times as well. Anything missed is going to mean even more expenditure of time and effort, so thoroughness is critical when it comes to anti-lice treatment.
Please note that Care.com claims that many of these specifically-designed anti-lice products are potentially problematic for either cats or cat owners or both. If people aren’t sure that they want to run the risk, they should seek out their veterinarian for assistance. Simply put, veterinary professionals have access to more options than they do. Thanks to that, they should be able to take care of the lice infestation while also addressing any secondary issues that have come up. To name an example, cats have been known to scratch themselves bloody because of the presence of lice, so antibiotics might be needed to prevent infection.
Tips for Cat Owners
In the meantime, there are also some things that cat owners can do on their own to prevent the possibility of re-infestation. One would be either tossing out the bedding and blankets or at least washing the bedding and blankets in hot, soapy water. Another would be disinfecting any objects and any surfaces that might have been contaminated. It might even be a good idea to have the cat spend some time elsewhere for a time. Lice can’t survive very long without a host. As such, it shouldn’t take too long before any lurkers die out, thus further reducing the chances of re-infestation.
What Are Some Other Common Cat Parasites?
Lice aren’t the only parasites that can target cats. The Wellesley Animal Hospital lists a number of both ectoparasites and endoparasites that are capable of hurting our feline companions as well. For instance, fleas often cause cats to bite, lick, and scratch their skin. Done to excess, that won’t work wonders for the cat’s skin. However, fleas are even more problematic because of their potential to spread bacteria and tapeworms through their feeding, which can make a bad situation that much more so. Fortunately, there are flea collars, flea medication, and other anti-flea products that can be used to destroy these pests.
Even so, prevention is the best policy, so cat owners might want to reconsider giving their cats outdoor access. Likewise, ticks are another kind of blood-sucking parasite that can get onto cats while the latter are outdoors. They are likeliest to target cats during the spring and the autumn, but they can be active year-round so long as the weather permits. Annoyingly, ticks won’t limit themselves to just cats and other animals. If they get the chance, they will feed on humans as well, which comes with the potential for them to pass on Lyme disease and mycoplasma. There are tick repellents available for purchase, so make sure to use them if cats are allowed to go outdoors.
Endoparasites are no less nasty than their external counterparts. One example would be Giardia duodenalis, which is a protozoan that can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and a lack of lethargy in their feline hosts. The resulting feces can have a green look to them, which is a clear sign that cat owners should be very careful around them. Indeed, contact with contaminated feces is how this protozoan spreads from cat to cat. Another example would be the famous Toxoplasma gondii. It is the protozoan responsible for toxoplasmosis. Cats with weaker immune systems are the likeliest to experience symptoms such as fever, a lack of energy, and a lack of appetite.
Worse, if they are unlucky enough to get the protozoan in their lungs or their liver, they can experience pneumonia and jaundice respectively. Humans are capable of being infected by this protozoan as well. So far, there is no indication that it is particularly dangerous to us, though there is some evidence that it can cause us more reckless and more sociable. Cat owners who are concerned about their cats being affected by parasites should keep a watchful eye out for any concerning symptoms. If they see something, they should visit their veterinarian for a diagnosis. Other than watchfulness, cat owners should also make sure that their cats are up-to-date on any vaccines and preventative medicine, which can save them a lot of hassle in the long run if their cats come into contact with the relevant pathogens.