What are Lice?
Lice are insects that can be seen with the naked eye. They are flattened and possess no wings. They are very host-specific and do not tend to leave their preferred animal. Lice spend their entire life cycle on the pet. Lice (singular: louse) are insects belonging to either the Mallophaga for chewing lice and Anoplura for sucking lice. There are about 460 species of sucking lice and 3,000 species of chewing lice.
Transmission of lice is by direct contact with an infested pet. Unlike fleas and ticks, lice do not persist or travel in the environment. Grooming instruments may, however, serve as a source of transmission. Lice lay eggs (termed nits) on the hair shafts. The life cycle takes about 21 days to complete.
The most noted sign of a louse infestation is a scruffy, dry hair coat. Hair loss may occur and the animal may itch, at times severely. In very heavy infestations of blood-sucking lice (biting), one may detect anaemia, especially in puppies and kittens. A diagnosis can usually be accomplished with the naked eye. Nits tend to be more visible than the actual louse, but both can be seen.
Lice are highly host-specific. Lice do not survive long if they are removed from their host, so they live on the host all the time.
Table: Common chewing (biting) lice affecting animals
||Cat biting louse
||Dog biting louse
||Dog biting louse
||Horse biting louse
Table: Common sucking lice affecting animals
||Dog sucking louse
||Horse sucking louse
Mallophaga – Biting Lice or Chewing Lice
Biting lice have mouthparts designed for chewing; not sucking and they feed on feathers, hair and skin scales. They live on mammals and birds. An infestation of lice is called pediculosis.
Chewing lice (Mallophaga) represent the larger of the two traditional suborders of lice (sucking lice).
Mallophaga is divided into three separate suborders:
1. The Amblycera are a large suborder of lice, parasitic on both birds and mammals. The Amblycera are considered the most primitive suborder of lice. They roam freely over the surface of their host and, unlike other lice, do not form permanent attachments. They feed by chewing soft areas of skin, causing an area of localized bleeding from which they drink. The Amblycera are the most generalized and least host specific.