Cat Has Lice

"Cat has lice means that the cat has a parasite called the specie Felicola subrostrata; which is a chewing louse. These are flat, wingless and host specific; which means that they only infest cats. Long haired, aged and potentially immune deficient cats are more susceptible. Cats that have lice are characterized by a rough, scruffy coat and itching. Loss of hair, anemia (low red blood cell count) and restlessness are common in severe cases. Felicola subrostrata can be observed with the naked eye, but nits (lice eggs) are prominent and easier to observe. Consistent crawling and chewing causes a cat to behave in a nervous manner. Diagnosis is usually not difficult. Clinical observation alone is enough to make a diagnosis as Felicola subrostrata is the only lice specie which infests cats. Treatment may involve the use of an anti–lice shampoo, rinsing and sulfur–dips. This sometimes includes in severe cases the use of anti–parasitic drugs. Regular grooming, bathing and reduced contact with other cats can prevent a lice infestation."

Felicola subrostrata: An introduction

Felicola subrostrata is a chewing louse, the only type of lice that infests cats. It has a triangular head; which is pointed forward. On the ventral side of the head, there is a groove that helps it  attach to a cat’s hair.

The life cycle of this louse completes in 30–40 days; while three nymphal stages are noted during the life cycle. The female lays 8–10 eggs a day, and feeds upon the blood of the feline host.

Signs and Symptoms when a Cat has Lice

Long haired, aged and sick cats are most often infested by lice vs. other types of cats. Cats have a habit of grooming themselves; while, aged, sick and depressed cats do not groom themselves, resulting in a lice infestation.

A scruffy, rough coat is one of the first symptoms followed by severe itching, nervousness.  Skin lesions appear due to rubbing and scratching. Anemia is another sign associated with lice infestation, as felicola subrostrata is a chewing louse. White nits (eggs from lice) on the hair indicate that a cat has lice. Nits are more prominent then lice in most cases.

Depression and nervousness are the most common signs that a cat has lice, resulting in cats exhibiting aggressive and unfriendly behavior.

Diagnosis when a Cat has Lice

Diagnosis does not require any laboratory testing or complicated procedures. The cat, if thoroughly examined clinically, with evidence of white nits, crawling louse and clinical signs is enough to diagnose a lice infestation.

In some cases; although it is uncommon, some other specie of lice of dogs or other animals may infest cats. These may be differentiated only by studying the anatomical features of the lice under a microscope on slide mount, but usually is not required to determine treatment.

Treatment when a Cat has Lice:

Treatment may require shampooing with a quality anti–lice shampoo, for 3–4 weeks, in order to completely eliminate lice and eggs. Shampoos containing pyrethrin are considered to be most effective.

Sulfur dipping  and rinsing regularly with a product containing, carbaryl, rotenone and pyrethrins, are another way to treat cats having lice such as the shampoo Virbac Ecto-Soothe 3x Tick, Flea & Lice Shampoo .

Drugs like ivermectin and selamectin are never recommended for most species of cats; as these have some severe nervous and musculoskeletal side effects, though trial usage has proven effective.

Grooming and regular bathing is highly recommended for affected cats. Some cats may require at least 3 baths a day, depending upon the severity.

Sick cats are more susceptible to lice infestation, thus care and systemic treatment of illness should be carried out once the onset of the disease is detected. In addition, sick cats should be kept in isolation and should cared for properly.

Once the lice infestation has subsided, a gentle natural shampoo that contains a bit of catnip for the cat that likes to avoid baths might be helpful.  One product to consider is Clean-Cat Shampoo .


The Merck Veterinary Manual

D. Shearer, Veterinary Entomology; Illustrated (Springer. 1997)


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