Lice are wingless, parasitic insects that thrive on hair and skin debris of felines. While uncommon in pet cats, a louse can select your poor kitten as a “host” for the remainder of its life. If you suspect that your little Tabby is infected, seek treatment from your vet.
Lice are yellowish to tan insects that can be seen by the naked eye. The cat louse, or Felicola subrostrata, is a species known to chew and bite the hair of their host, aka your harmless kitten. Kittens who are ill or diseased may suffer from large numbers of lice, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. They are also seen on longhaired kittens that are not able to properly groom themselves. These bloodsucking insects appear flat, are wingless and are about the size of a flea or sesame seed. Once lice have begun to multiply, eggs (or nits) can be seen stuck to kitty’s hair shafts.
One of the first noticeable symptoms of infestation is the scruffy, rough or dry appearance of your kitten’s coat. Kittens may also bite, scratch or rub the infested areas to alleviate the extreme itchiness of lice, sometimes resulting in hair loss. In more severe infestations, your kitten’s fur may become matted and mangled. If you look carefully at kitty’s skin and fur, you may see a fast-moving louse moving through your kitten’s magnificent mane. In many cases, your vet can make a diagnosis by seeing these pestering parasites on your infested kitten.
If your kitten is diagnosed as infested, rest assure that treatment is quick and painless. Your vet may prescribe a spot-on or spray-on formula to eliminate lice on contact. Once treated, your vet may suggest a second course of medication to ensure any remaining lice and nymphs are eradicated. While humans are not generally susceptible to attracting the feline louse, you should use gloves when caring for your contaminated cat to avoid becoming its next host. If a louse becomes separated from your kitten, it can only survive 3 to 7 days without a warm-blooded host.
Although your kitten may have had a rough start in life, a monthly treatment to control fleas and lice can ensure a healthy future. Your vet may suggest monthly courses of selamectin, fipronil or imidacloprid to keep lice at bay. Since infestations are more likely in very young or debilitated felines, it’s important to give your kitten extra care to prevent lice. Cats and kittens tend to clean themselves (continuously), but may need a bath from time to time to maintain cleanliness, according to Animal Planet. Only bathe your Tabby when he seems dirty, as over-bathing could make his skin itchy and dry.
- Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images