Bed bugs can be a nuisance for just about anyone. But for pet owners specifically, their presence indoors can often lead to serious and long-lasting issues in animals if left untreated. Don’t let your pet fall victim to this very manageable household pest. Know what to do if you suspect bed bugs have set up home in your home.
Here are some commonly asked questions from pet owners about bed bug infestations:
Just what are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are members of the Cimicidae insect family. They are small, semi-nocturnal, blood-sucking parasitic insects that mostly feed on human blood––however, they have been known to be attracted to other warm-blooded species, including pets like dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters, and birds. They have the ability to survive extreme temperatures, including from 0°F to over 122°F. They can also go several months without feeding, making them incredibly problematic long-term guests.
Bed bugs do not discriminate. They can be found in dirty motels and first-class hotels; filthy dorm rooms or clinically cleaned hospital wards. In short, bed bugs will set up shop anywhere in which there are places to hide and hosts to feed on––and that includes humans and animals.
Can bed bugs bite pets?
When you spot bed bugs in your home, it’s worth noting that they haven’t infiltrated the area for any reason other than they are looking for a place to feed. And since pets are covered in fur or feathers, their skin makes for a particularly convenient base for feeding.
Unlike fleas, ticks, lice, and mites, bed bugs do not physically live on pets. In fact, it is very unusual for pets to carry bugs on them or have them burrowed into their skin. But bed bugs are definitely known for biting house pets. Fortunately for both pets and their owners, bed bugs are not known to transmit disease. Instead, people and animals may find that, overnight, they have developed itchy welts or red lesions, usually in the form of a line on the skin (which can typically be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites). Such minor issues can also lead to secondary skin infections and cases of severe scratching, but these are typically the most problematic side effects of bed bugs. Apart from the mental distress of trying to find the cause of unexplained skin issues (for those who don’t recognize the common symptoms), many pet owners don’t even notice bed bug bites at all.
How can I tell if my pet has bed bugs? Do bed bugs hide in pet beds?
One of the first clues to determining if bed bugs are hiding in pet or human beds is to look for tiny blood spots on light-colored fabrics or sheets. If the infestation is large enough, you might be able to see actual bugs, translucent shed exoskeletons, and/or even fecal matter (bed bug droppings – small, round, black spots not dissimilar to the “flea dirt” left by fleas) in plain sight.
When pet owners happen to find bed bugs in their homes, it is important to note that those bugs rarely, if ever, get in on the backs of cats or dogs. Bed bugs do not fly. They move fast –– often under the cover of darkness. They are active almost exclusively at night and tend to hide in tiny crevices near pet and human sleeping areas during the day.
As many travelers know, bed bugs are very efficient at attaching themselves to wooden structures and fabrics like those found in clothing, bedding materials, linens, and even luggage. This is most often how bed bugs get into the home. And once inside, they usually look for the same type of soft textiles to hide during the day, emerging at night to feed on blood. So they may attach themselves to dog or cat bedding or other common areas of the house where pets spend most of their time. These locations can include pet cages, beds, and even on their toys. It’s important to identify all these areas inside a home with bed bugs. One good example is cats can often find small areas away from homeowners to rest such as a couch in the basement or under a bed in a guest room. This can lead to locations that would not be common in homes and can reinfest if not treated.
Pet owners can search for evidence of bed bugs in several places throughout the home, including along mattress seams, within or behind bed headboards and fabric bed frames, inside the ceiling or wall junctions, along baseboards, in the seams of clothing, scarves, socks, and other fabric-based accessories like purses and duffle bags. Behind picture frames, within fabric drapes and wall hangings, tapestries, and even behind loose wallpaper. But one of the most common sites for bed bug hangouts is on pet bedding and fabric dog and cat chew toys.
Identifying a bed bug
Adult-age bed bugs are typically reddish-brown in color and often look to be about the size of a hulled sunflower seed. Underdeveloped, or youth-age bed bugs are considerably smaller in size (while still visible to the naked eye), and feature a lighter yellow, near-translucent color. A bed bug, regardless of age, that has just fed on a person or animal will be much more reddish in color. A female bed bug that has recently fed can typically lay anywhere from 2 to 5 eggs per day.
Can bed bugs be transmitted from pets to humans? Are bed bugs more attracted to certain types of pets?
Bed bugs are often referred to as “hitchhikers” because, due to their small size, they can not only hide within the folds of fabrics and other soft materials, but they are almost always transported into the home by way of attaching themselves to an item and “hitching a ride” inside. They often connect to mattress tops and folds, furniture seams, crevices in suitcases and handbags, luggage, inside folded clothes or bedding, and so on. They rarely, if ever, get into the house on the backs of dogs or cats. Any bed bug that crawled onto the fur of a house pet would feed on their blood during the night. But in the daytime, when pets are active and interacting with humans, bed bugs would be trying to remain unseen. This makes animals poor canvases for hitchhiking bed bugs
If you live in a house or building that is shared with other families (like an apartment building or duplex), bed bugs can hitchhike from one family living room to another by attaching to items found in the building’s common areas. Or they can simply walk from one end to the other. In fact, bed bugs are very closely associated with people and the stuff we own. More often than not, bed bugs get into the house due to contact with a human’s personal item(s).
What should I do if my pet has bed bugs? What are some effective treatments for bed bug infestations in a pet’s environment?
As with any pest infestation, there are a number of treatment methods––both physical control and chemical options. In some severe cases, both methods of treatment may be required. Finding help in the form of a qualified pest management specialist or team is always recommended for large, suspected infestations as these companies often use high heat or special insecticides that aren’t available for sale in stores.
If attempting to rid yourself of bed bug infestations yourself, you should always read the label of any product you are attempting to use. It’s also very important for property owners to reference local bylaws before performing any chemical sprays inside or outside the home. Treatment by landlords can be illegal if you have renters in your home –– especially if they have pets.
Many pets are extremely sensitive to chemicals including but not limited to Birds and reptiles. Airborne particles can cause severe health issues for pets and be fatal to certain animals. It’s best to confer with a licensed professional before applying chemicals in a home with pets.
Physical control methods for treating bed bugs (that are also completely pet-safe)
Vacuuming is one of the simplest and most effective methods of physical control when dealing with bed bugs in the home. However, as straightforward as it sounds, it is recommended that pet owners do not use handheld vacuums, vacuums with fabric-sheathed hoses, or vacuums with cloth deposit bags, as these types of equipment can themselves become infected.
- To start, simply vacuum in all places of the bedroom or other common areas of the house where humans and pets sleep (again, use along mattress seams, within or behind bed headboards and fabric bed frames, inside the ceiling or wall junctions, along baseboards, in the seams of clothing, scarves, socks, and other fabric-based accessories, behind picture frames, within fabric drapes and wall hangings, tapestries, even behind loose wallpaper––and within the folds of pet bedding and on fabric dog and cat chew toys). Use a scrub brush (or even a clean, newly purchased toilet brush) on mattress surfaces and seams to rid bed bug eggs, larvae, and shed exoskeletons that cause the most irritations to the skin).
- Place the vacuum bag into a sealed plastic bag, then place the bag into a garbage can with a secure lid (preferably the outside garbage cans). Then, thoroughly wash all vacuum attachments in extra-hot water with detergent.
- Keep the vacuum base sealed in a large garbage bag for at least a few weeks
- If using a bagless vacuum cleaner, follow the same steps as above, but instead, empty the canister’s contents into a plastic garbage bag, seal it, and dispose of the bag right away. Wash the dust container in extra-hot water with detergent.
Wash, heat, repeat––and throw away: one of the many inconveniences that come with having bed bugs is that, in addition to cleaning, you might just have to end up throwing out some household items to ensure that you will not get a return visit.
- While not always necessary, you may decide to replace your pet’s bedding, clothing, or stuffed toys. Or you may choose to launder your pet’s items at the hottest maximum temperature. Use caution when transferring any linens you suspect might have bed bugs to the laundry room to avoid further contamination.
- Thoroughly wash all bedding, linens, clothing, wall hangings, and travel items (suitcases, duffle bags, luggage) in hot water and powerful laundry detergent. For best results, any items that can be professionally laundered or dry cleaned should Take smaller items like stuffed animals, pet chew toys, and other non-washables and place them in the clothes dryer for at least 30 minutes in a very high-temperature setting. Bed bugs are no match for heat.
- Once cleaned, be sure to store all fabric items in sealed plastic bags or in secure plastic storage bins with lids to avoid repeat infestations
- Alternatively, you may decide that it is enough to place the materials in the dryer instead of washing and tumbling on high heat for the duration of a full cycle.
- Steam clean any items that cannot be washed with hot water or put in the dryer. Bed bugs typically die at temperatures of 50°C –– and professional-grade steam cleaners are known to emit steam at a temperature of at least 100°C. Follow this procedure slowly and efficiently multiple times until you are confident that the area is secured, as steam will only kill the bed bugs it touches.
- As effective as heat is at killing bed bugs, cold temperatures can be just as adequate. Smaller items can also be placed in the freezer or outside during winter months. For best results, keep these items in freezing temperatures for a number of days to ensure that all bed bugs have been destroyed.
- If you are confident that you have killed all of the bed bugs, wrap your mattresses and pillows in covers designed to specifically keep out bugs and mites (these are available at any retail location where bedding is sold). This not only prevents new infestations, but if you did not happen to completely eradicate your infestation, wrapping mattresses and pillows in protective gear will keep residual bed bugs from escaping until they die off naturally. Use strong duct tape to seal the zippered openings, and keep these items sealed for up to a year.
- Another trick is to coat the legs of your bed with non-toxic petroleum jelly or Vaseline to prevent further bed bugs from climbing into your mattress or onto the sheets.
Chemical control methods for treating bed bugs
- For treating persistent bed bug infestations, it is always recommended that you consult a qualified pesticide and/or extermination specialist––they are the best equipped to spray products in areas of the home safely. And, of course, notify the pest service that you have pets, and you need them to use only products that are to use near animals and/or small children.
- If you choose to spray on your own, you can use products available from retail stores. Always ensure that products are certified for bed bugs only, and be sure to follow all directions carefully. Never use store-bought pesticides on or near baby cribs or playpens.
How can I prevent bed bugs from infesting my pet?
In order to protect your pets from bed bugs, you typically have to protect yourself first. And this is often accomplished by being hyper-hygienic and aware of your interior surroundings.
As mentioned, one of the most common methods of bed bugs entering your home is by unknowingly bringing them in yourself, so always look for areas where bed bugs live naturally. When traveling (with or without your pet) and staying in a hotel, search areas around the bed (including the mattress, the headboard, and the box spring) for bed bugs or signs of an infestation. If possible, always try to keep your luggage, pet crates, and any pet bedding away from the hotel bed––instead, store them in the tiled bathroom or bathtub and away from common areas like sofas or chairs.
When checking out of your hotel, thoroughly inspect your luggage and travel items carefully to ensure no hidden bugs will be brought home. If you have the time, consider having your pet groomed before bringing them home, or simply inspect it visually and look for any tiny bugs or fecal matter on the fur. For best results, consider keeping your luggage, pet carriers, and pet bedding in the car for about 1 to 2 weeks once you’ve return homed from traveling––especially if you live in areas during times of extreme weather (hot summer or cold winter), as these scenarios can kill any bed bugs that you might have missed on inspection. Once you’ve finally brought your belongings home, leave the items outside and wash all your clothing and travel items and/or place them in the dryer on high heat before bringing them into the house.
In addition to being vigilant when traveling to avoid bringing home bed bugs, there are preventative cleanliness measures you can adopt year-round to keep infestations from happening.
Housework––limit the number of hiding places in your home where bed bugs can live and breed by:
- Vacuuming often, including under and behind beds (see above for greater detail).
- Make minor repairs like removing peeling wallpaper.
- Seal all cracks and wefts on non-metal bed frames, plus in between floor and baseboards, within walls, ceilings, windows, and door frames.
- Repair or replace any furniture with major cosmetic issues, including fabric tears.
- Dam up entry points on walls or floors that you may share with neighbors (like areas where pipes, wires, and other utility services are stored).
- Install or repair damaged window and door screens that are meant to keep out insects, rodents, and other pests.
Be aware of what you are bringing inside––new purchases? They might not be as “clean” as they looked on the sales floor.
- Review and inspect any furniture you buy from stores, especially yard sales and consignment or thrift stores, as these can be breeding grounds for bed bugs. It’s often not enough to ask the vendor. One of the latest trends in Facebook Marketplace for furniture purchasing between homeowners. This site has been one of the fastest growing spread of infestations over the past few years.
- Check newly purchased mattresses upon delivery, as they are usually transported to your address in the same vans that are used to haul away old mattresses from other houses. If the mattress does not arrive sealed in plastic, make sure you thoroughly inspect the seams before bringing it indoors. Same with other types of furniture––sofas, lounge chairs, bedding.
These measures are not 100% guaranteed to kill all bed bugs, but they are the next best thing to avoid an infestation.
Are there any long-term effects or health risks for pets exposed to bed bugs?
As universally annoying as they can be, bed bug bites happen to affect each person differently. Some of the various responses to bites can result in tiny marks on the skin to a serious allergic reaction––or even no physical symptoms at all. Bed bugs should always be considered a nuisance and not a dangerous or life-threatening health risk (provided you don’t have an allergic reaction to insect bites that require medical attention).
In some rare cases, we have heard of large bed bug infestations linked to Hemophilia due to excess blood loss over a long period. This is not for typical infestations but can affect sensitive individuals with undiagnosed predispositions. Studies are still ongoing in these cases.
As mentioned, bed bugs are not known to carry or spread disease. The most aggravating, long-term health risk for humans and pets when dealing with an infestation is the mental toll taken on the brain once it is known you have bed bugs in your house. This state can be traumatic, even after the infestation has been eradicated. Some humans and pets might feel that the itching sensation remains, which can cause paranoia and sleep loss. However, these fears typically subside on their own over time.
Once you’ve identified and treated a bed bug infestation in your home, you will likely become even more aware of practicing cleanliness and greater hygiene indoors and outdoors with your pet.