Over the last several years news outlets have created a great deal of hype over a bed bug epidemic that is sweeping the USA. Bed bugs apparently stashed themselves in the luggage of people who traveled to developing countries and journeyed to the eastern seaboard. The parasites set up shop in hotels in New York, and spread across the country from there.
Bed bugs, unlike nastier blood suckers such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, are not known to spread disease. However, as a frequent traveler to developing countries I can tell you from personal experience that knowledge of this fact is cold comfort when one discovers a big juicy bed bug underneath one’s pillow.
Bed bug bites feel indistinguishable from mosquito bites. However, mosquitoes generally go for the hands, face, arms and legs. Bed bugs go for the torso. The bites are unpleasant, but the biggest problem with bed bugs, in my experience, is that one tends do discover them in the middle of the night when it is far too late to look for a new hotel in a place like Cairo or Vientiane or Jerantut. Bed bugs are creepy, but I’m not sure they warrant the hysteria that they’ve generated in the press.
As the “bed bug epidemic” has taken hold in America, I have had increasing numbers of clients ask whether their pets could be infested with or spread bed bugs. I am happy to say that the answer to both questions is no.
Bed bugs, unlike fleas, do not infest their hosts. They live in and around bedding. They feed on their victims and then retire. Humans, cats, and dogs can be bitten by the parasites, but none of us carry them on our bodies. Bed bug bites can cause itching and may exacerbate allergies in dogs and cats.
Bed bugs can infest your pet’s bedding just like they can infest your bedding. If this happens, do not apply pesticides to your pet’s bed. Instead, call a professional exterminator with bed bug experience to eradicate the pests in a fashion that will be safe for all household inhabitants.
If you’re worried about bed bugs, remember that humans, not pets, spread them. They travel in luggage. A number of online resources offer tips on bed bug prevention (Google “bed bug prevention”), but I will add a few insights of my own.
Despite the hysteria related to the “bed bug epidemic” in the USA, remember that bed bugs still are quite rare in clean American hotels. They are more common in developing countries.
When I travel abroad, I carry and sleep under a sheet that has been lightly coated in permethrin. The permethrin appears to repel (and possibly kill) bed bugs as well as their more dangerous brethren, mosquitoes. I pack the sleep sheet in my luggage, and this has worked (so far) to keep the pests out of my bags.
Is it worth sleeping in a miasma of chemicals in order to escape from relatively harmless bed bug bites? Probably not. I use the sleep sheet primarily to protect against mosquitoes–and dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and a host of other mosquito-borne illnesses.
But if you can’t stand the thought of bed bugs, a permethrin-coated travel sheet might be your ticket. Remember not to apply permethrin to your pet’s bed: permethrin is toxic to cats.
To read more about bed bugs and pets, click here.