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Cat itching and licking itself

Does my kitten have lice?

Q: Our new kitten, Leo, has tiny white specks stuck to his fur. The veterinarian said they're nits, or lice eggs, and she treated him for lice.

I'd do almost anything to prevent Leo's lice from infecting our two young children, who had head lice once. Should I keep the kids from playing with him? If so, for how long?

A: You needn't separate the children from their new kitten, because lice infect only one species. So, cat lice infect cats, and human lice attack people. Leo's lice won't jump to your children.

Your new kitten was undoubtedly infected when he was exposed to another cat with lice or to that cat's bedding, comb or brush.

Lice are tiny, flat, wingless insects that move slowly. They cause a condition called pediculosis, marked by itchiness, skin crusting and hair loss.

More obvious than the lice are their eggs, called nits, which are cemented to the cat's fur. Nits look like flecks of dandruff, except that you can't remove them by petting or brushing the cat.

Fortunately, most flea products eliminate lice and prevent their recurrence. So, the treatment your veterinarian prescribed should kill Leo's lice and allow your children to enjoy their new kitten.

Editor’s Note: Pet hair loss could be a sign of fleas. Dr. Lee discusses hair loss and flea detection.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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