Fleas and lice have some similarities, including:
- they are both small, wingless insects that bite and chew the skin
- both are active at all times of the day
- both can transmit tapeworms
- both can cause hair loss, itching and potential bacterial infections
- both can make your pet extremely uncomfortable
How are fleas and lice different?
First things first: Fleas are more common and feed on blood. Lice are not as common and feed on skin debris. But if you're not sure about the difference between the two, there's a key fact that can help you quickly distinguish the pests: They move differently. Fleas are harder to find because they move so well through the hair. You might see a flea and then not be able to find it again. Lice are not as mobile and may even be attached to individual hairs by way of their large mouthparts.
Lifespan and reproduction are other important differences. Lice usually live about one month and females may lay numerous nits (eggs) in their lifetime. After laying the nits, the female lice glues them to the pet's hair shafts.
Fleas, on the other hand, live about two to three months on the pet and lay thousands of eggs in their lifetime. Unlike lice, fleas lay eggs that fall right off the pet into carpets, bedding and backyard areas. From there, these eggs will hatch and develop into adults to re-infest the dog from the environment.
Lice spread to other dogs through close contact while fleas spread to dogs from a contaminated environment. In other words, an infected dog can transfer lice to another dog directly. A flea-infested dog will very rarely transfer fleas to another dog directly. Rather, a dog has to walk or lay around an area that is contaminated with fleas and then the fleas jump on the dog.
Any pet, even those that are well-cared for, can get fleas. Their age or breed doesn't matter, either. Lice tend to affect young, old, or neglected pets living in poor sanitary conditions.
Knowing basic facts can help you treat and prevent pest problems that affect your pet. Don't forget that prevention is key: Do all you can to keep pests at bay before they become a problem for you and your pet.