If you've ever wondered what the term nit-picking actually means, you're about to find out whether your cat has lice and corresponding white specks in his fur. Those small, white bits are nits, or lice eggs. Cats infested with lice are lousy. Literally.
Felicola subrostrata, the cat louse, chews on its victims' tissues. That's opposed to certain lice affecting other species, which suck. Frankly, all lice suck, but some do it literally. Cats pick up lice from infested felines or from items contaminated with nits,such as bedding. Lice generally chew on a cat's rear end, head and shoulders. Since lice are species-specific, lice that have infested your cat aren't going to infest you or your dog. A louse's complete life cycle lasts three to four weeks from nit to adult.
You can actually see lice on a cat, along with those white specks. Since it's unlikely your well-cared-for cat will acquire lice, you're more likely to find them on a stray cat who crosses your path. Symptoms include bald patches, itching and heavy dandruff. The irritation may aggravate him enough to keep him from being able to sleep for long periods. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, among domesticated cats, lice are more often seen on older, long-haired ones who are no longer able to groom themselves.
Getting rid of lice is not complicated. You can buy over-the-counter preparations, but instead take the cat to a vet since he might have other health issues. After the initial topical or powder treatment kills the living, you'll have to repeat it every few weeks to get rid of the nits before they mate. You can use a lyme sulfur dip to get rid of lice but not nits. If the lousy cat's coat is matted, it's probably best to shave it down. It will grow back. Get rid of any possibly contaminated bedding, and keep your cat quarantined from other cats until treatment is finished. Inspect the others carefully for evidence of lice. They might need treatment, too.
Cats fed a healthy diet, resulting in a strong immune system, aren't usually bothered by lice. The monthly, topical flea and tick preventive selamectin, marketed under the brand name Revolution, keeps lice away along with other parasites such as heartworm and ear mites. It's available only by prescription, so you can purchase it from your vet or she can write a prescription for you that you can fill online. Fipronil, marketed under the brand name Frontline for Cats, eradicates lice among other parasites, and doesn't require a prescription.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.