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How to Treat Lice in Feral Cats: 4 Tips & Tricks (Vet Answer)

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	Dr. Chantal Villeneuve Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

Veterinarian, MS BVetMed

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Lice on cats are not as common in our pets because of the use of flea and tick-preventative medications. Unfortunately, there is no good way to get these medications to feral cats.

And at-home remedies do nothing, as does treating and spraying the homes of feral cats with insecticides—absolutely nothing. So, what can you do to help treat lice in feral cats? Read on to learn how!

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Cat Lice Infestations 101

The species of louse that infests cats is called Felicola subrostratus. Lice are species-specific, meaning they only infect one species. So, you cannot get lice from a cat, and neither can your dog. This does mean, however, that your pet cat can get lice from feral cats.

The good (and bad) news is if a feral cat is infested with lice, then as disgusting as it may seem, the lice are probably not its biggest problem. Lice do not suck blood; they only chew the skin. So, while the skin can get very itchy, a cat can over-scratch themselves and get secondary bacterial infections. The lice are probably only a small part of their overall health problems.

two feral cats on the table
Image Credit: Nathalie Jolie, Unsplash


The 4 Tips To Get Rid of Fleas in Feral Cats

1. Get Close to Them

Diagnosing and identifying lice cannot be done without touching the cat. While lice infestations can cause skin issues that may be apparent from a distance, like hair loss, dermatitis, and over-grooming. All these problems can also be caused by other health problems and external parasites, such as:

  • Fleas 
  • Mites
  • Malnourishment
  • And even systemic diseases like hyperthyroidism.

So, if you have a feral cat that you cannot touch, it would be very difficult to know that certain lice are a problem, not fleas, mites, or even poor nutrition. Even if you can touch the cat, lice might be theoretically big enough to see on the fur—but just barely. A microscope or magnifying glass can help. But also, it can be difficult to see them scurrying around in the fur—they are very quick and surprisingly good at hiding.

Sometimes it is easier to see the nits that collect on the hair. Nits are the eggs that get glued to hair strands. They are whitish gray, almost translucent, and oval, and importantly stay in one place.

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2. Be Aware of Feral Cat Colonies

Lice are more likely to occur when cats are hanging out together in close proximity. So, a colony of feral cats is more likely to have lice than a singleton roaming alone.

Feeding a colony of cats can cause cats to cluster together when they normally would spread out. And that can mean that lice are more likely to spread from cat to cat. Getting all the cats together to feed them might actually be exacerbating the problem.

feral cats
Image Credit: Piqsels
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3. Complete the Treatment

The medications that treat lice must be applied directly onto the skin. And they need to be repeated regularly. Most of the time, once a month is enough for in-house pets that are not exposed to a lot of lice eggs.

But if a feral cat has a high infestation rate and has a lot of eggs stuck to their fur, they will need to be treated again in two weeks because the eggs will have hatched by then.

So, in order to theoretically treat a feral cat, you would not only have to capture it once, but you would also need to do it again in two weeks.

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4. Treat All the Feral Cats

And you would have to treat all the cats in the neighborhood. The contagious nature of lice means that if a cat’s immune system is not strong enough to fight them off in the first place, then after you treat them, the lice will come back quickly.

Anyone who knows a cat that does not like to be held knows they would probably just rather live with lice than suffer the indignity of being manhandled—repeatedly.

It is just not worth the minimal reward treating them by capturing, stressing, and releasing them. If you do catch them, arrange for them just to find them a new home—it’s a much more sustainable option.

two feral cats
Image Credit: JancickaL, Pixabay

cat paw divider Conclusion

I know it is frustrating to not have a simple answer. I wish I could give you one! Unfortunately, that is often the problem with medicine. And feral cats have been a long, ongoing, and complicated problem for veterinary medicine. Reducing their numbers and providing safe, healthy homes for them is the only way to effectively ensure their wellbeing.

Lice are most likely to infest cats that live close together and are in poor health, and sadly this often perfectly describes feral cats. So, providing the cat with proper medical care, nutrition, and an uncrowded place to live is really the best treatment.

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Featured Image Credit: Akira, Unsplash