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Bed Bugs and Pets: Answers to Your Questions

Melody is a volunteer for the Center for Disease and Control Prevention. She enjoys sharing her personal experience with others.

Learn about whether bed bugs pose a danger to your pets.

Learn about whether bed bugs pose a danger to your pets.

Can Bed Bugs Travel on Pets?

The simple answer is yes. Cats and dogs can get bed bugs on them. However, they will not become infested with them. Bed bugs don't live on pets, although they might hitch a ride or, on rare occasions, have a nibble.

Global diversification increases distribution of many types of microorganisms and pests. Bed bugs have officially gained the title Ultimate Hitchhiker. Animals can carry bed bugs as easy as any other pest; it just happens less often. Bed bugs are less likely to travel on a pet than they are a human. If your pet has been treated with flea and tick neck drops, then they likely won't get bed bugs on them at all.

Will They Bite My Cat or Dog?

Bed bugs will attack your pet, but only if they have got a long, long time without a human blood meal. Pet blood does not meet their nutritional requirements the way human blood does.

What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are a member of the genus Cimex. Every insect in this genus is a bloodsucker of one form or another. For example, one variety, called "bat bugs," feeds on bats. The type that infests most homes these days are of the genus Cimex lectularius, and they love human blood.

Do They Prefer Humans or Pets?

Many people feel confusion because bed bugs are known to dislike hair and fur and that they prefer a human host. It is true that they prefer humans and dislike fur. It is also true that they will take what they can get when they can get it. The scientific fact is that bed bugs can feed on any warm-blooded animal, so they are not going to let themselves starve just because they dislike fur.

In almost all cases, except a rare few, you are going to get bitten before your cat does. Bed bugs are the hungry wolf, and you are the grandma. They will not eat Little Red Riding Hood (your cat) until after they eat grandma (you).

Bed bug bites can cause severe itching in pets.

Bed bug bites can cause severe itching in pets.

Reasons a Bed Bug Bites a Furry Pet

Since bed bugs don't like pet fur or blood, there is usually an underlying reason why bed bugs target them. The main reason a cat or dog may be bitten by a bed bug is that failed extermination measures upset the bed bugs' natural feeding patterns.

When you exterminate, these insects look for areas that have not been treated. If you are unsuccessful in your extermination attempts, the bugs will climb into dressers and on top of curtains to find a safe place to hide until their next meal. They may even target a pet's bed while looking for a meal.

Reasons bed bugs bite pets:

  • The bug has extreme hunger.
  • The bug is unable to reach human-occupied areas.
  • The pet transferred the bug from an infested chair or couch.
  • The pet sleeps in an infested area.
  • The pet sleeps in bed with its owner.
  • An older animal who experiences difficulty moving may struggle to defend itself.

How to Stop Bed Bugs From Biting Pets

To Do Additional InfoContinued Maintenance

Vacuum pet's bed

Pay close attention to seams of pet bets. If a pet bed can be machine washed and dried for an hour, this is preferable.

Wash and dry bedding regularly

Wash bedding

If your pet's bed is too large to be washed or the laundering instructions do not include washing, use a steam machine instead.

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Dry bedding for at least 30 minutes

The best chance to kill them is to place the pet bed in the dryer for an hour.

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Steam clean pet bed

If you cannot wash or dry your pet bed, use a steam cleaner to kill bugs.

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Vacuum under pet bed and all areas around it

Not only do you have to get bugs off the bed, you need to clean all areas near and around pet beds.

Vacuum area regularly

Empty vacuum

Vacuuming does not kill them. If you do not empty the vacuum, they will escape. Seal the vacuum bag in a large ziplock bag and throw away. If there is no bag, empty contents into a large zip lock bag and dispose.

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Seal trim, cracks, and crevices near pet bed

Use caulk to seal any crack or crevice in the walls near the pet bed. Try to avoid putting a pet bed around outlets.

Check for cracks regularly

Use Revolution on cats and dogs

Revolution is the best heartworm & flea treatment on the market. Studies show it may also help deter bed bugs from biting your pet.

Follow vet's instructions on how frequently to apply a dose to your pets

Misconceptions to Dispel

Pets Can't Spread Bed Bugs Around the House

False. Pets can carry bed bugs around on them. Bed bugs do not physically attach themselves to cats and dogs like ticks do, but they can take a ride and are willing to travel for their meal. If they are hungry and cannot find a human, they will find a pet, such as your beloved cat. If your cat gets up and moves, the insects will not leap off your pet because they cannot jump or fly.

They Only Eat at Night

This is false! Bed bugs do prefer to feast at night, however, if there are no nighttime meals available, then they will attack during the day. If you were hungry and could not find food, would you just go to sleep and say, "Oh well!" just because you prefer to feed during the day? Would you give up a meal just because your favorite dish isn't on the menu? No! You would find food whatever it takes. So, even though they will attack mostly at night, if hungry during the day, they will bite your cat or dog. They will also search for heat and CO2, and your pets have both!

Your Pet Can Detect Them Right Away

False. The bugs will sit there and munch on your pet, but your pet probably won't know because the bites are painless. The bite begins to itch much later and your cat or dog will begin scratching like crazy. This leads to irritation, hair loss, and infection.

Pets and Bed Bug Dangers

Bed bugs don't like to bite pets. However, they can survive on pet blood. It's not common for bed bugs to bite cats and dogs, but it happens in deep infestations.

Bed bugs don't like to bite pets. However, they can survive on pet blood. It's not common for bed bugs to bite cats and dogs, but it happens in deep infestations.

Can They Make Cats, Dogs, or Small Rodents Sick?

Yes, they can indirectly make your cats sick. Bed bugs do not transmit pathogens to cats or humans, but cats are prone to developing a severe itch from a bite. Trying to keep a cat from scratching is futile, and because it is likely to scratch more intensely than a human, the cat can easily suffer from a skin infection that may make it very sick.

Do not bother trying to give your cat a bath. Aside from getting scratched head to toe and being subjected to your cat's evil eye gaze, it is only going to make matters worse. If your cat is attacked and begins to scratch excessively, call a vet.

Consulting a Vet

The two main things your vet can do are:

  1. Prescribe or recommend something to stop the itching.
  2. Prescribe antibiotics to ward off infections.

One great product that you can use on your pet is Dermal-Sooth Anti-Itch Spray. I personally asked my vet about the best over-the-counter itch treatment for pets, something that would specifically work for bed bug bites. She recommended Dermal-Sooth because it numbs the skin while hydrating it.

Many competitors' anti-itch spray only contain numbing agents, which dry the skin and can actually cause more itching! The hydrating action in Dermal-Sooth helps create a more long-lasting itch relief. You can pick up the treatment for $10–$18, depending on the size of bottle you buy.

Getting Treatment

Once you have your pet protected, it is time to address the itching. Forums around the web are filled with, “My vet said this…” and “My vet said that…” Not only is this secondhand knowledge that could be incorrect, but it also seems like everyone’s vet is saying something different. To investigate this further, I called ten local vets and asked them each the same series of questions about bed bugs:

  • Some of them swore bed bugs do not attack cats.
  • Others said they do attack cats, but that there is nothing to worry about.
  • Some said the cat would need medication.

Bed bugs are a relatively new problem, and because they have been dormant for so long, they are not usually included in the curriculum at vet school. Each vet is left to do their own research, and they all seem to have sources that say different things.

Is Your Cat Scratching?

If your cat is not scratching, then do not worry about it. However, if it is scratching, then you want to see a vet. You do not have to tell your vet about bed bugs as long as your pet gets the care it needs. If the scratching is addressed, and you get antibiotics to prevent infection, then these treatments alone will suffice. But, it is probably best to tell the vet the truth because many vets seem happy to give a million other excuses for the itching, such as an allergic reaction to food or fleas.

Flea and Tick Medications and Diatomaceous Earth

From my own experience, flea and tick medications do not solve the problem. However, using the liquid flea and tick medication Revolution will help a little bit. Some people say to use diatomaceous earth on cats. It is an old-school flea remedy that works on bed bugs, too. Personally, I do not recommend using diatomaceous earth on your pet. Many people report that diatomaceous earth can cause further skin irritation and dryness. While it is a safe product, if you or your cat breathe it in, it can cause respiratory problems.

More Ideas for Prevention

Deterrent Kitty Litter

Silica kitty litter can help keep your pet bed bug-free.This type of litter contains less silica than diatomaceous earth (a popular bed bug killer), but it contains enough to deter bed bugs.

The best silica cat litter is Clear Choice Silica Crystal. This brand usually costs between $12 and $15 a bottle. The reason this is the best is because it only needs to be changed once a month for one cat, and twice a month for two. It absorbs odor well and kicks up only enough crystal to deter bed bugs without irritating your cat. Other brands kick up almost no crystals. Normally that is good, but not for our purposes.

Protective Pet Bed Covers

Bed bugs are not likely to attack your cat unless they are taking extreme measures. You can also take extreme measures to protect your cat. A clever lady named Clara Miller designed a special pet bed that is like a mattress cover.

The Dog Bed Brotector Cover with zipper may not have the trendiest name, but the inside of the cover is treated with an all-natural pesticide. It permeates through the material to deter bed bugs, but keeps a pet safe. While this is designed for dogs, I have seen it work quite well for cats as well.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: I use Neurontin for my cat and myself for pain but I noticed it stopped the bed bugs from biting us as well? Does it? Or is it doing more harm cause of the side affects sleeping?

Answer: I have researched this topic for you. There is no known evidence that Neurontin stops bed bugs from biting you. According to Drugs.com it is used for conditions such as shingles and herpes. Let your doctor and vet know about what you have noticed. There is a small chance that, while it does't keep bugs from biting you, it soothes some of the symptoms of the bite.

Question: I think something is eating away at the side of my dogs face. He's got a bald spot and he's bleeding and it seems to be going septic with like a green pus coming from the area. Any ideas if my dog's condition could be caused by bed bugs?

Answer: It is doubtful that this was caused by a bed bug, however it does sound like the dog has an infection. I would take the dog to the vet right away, as this may be a more serious issues.

© 2012 Melody Collins

Comments

Melody Collins (author) from United States on February 01, 2020:

I am very sorry for your loss. Most vets do say it is unlikely for bed bugs to cause the death of a pet. However, when you talk about anemia then there are other vets who might call it a slim possibility. If the pet was already anemic, getting bit by bed bugs doesn't help. There are lots of things that can cause anemia, and since a second pet is affected, there is reason to pause. An already anemic cat bitten by bed bugs would become even more anemic. But, there is likely another cause. At this point you will need to do lots of research about what causes anemia in cats, and see if anything else in your home might be causing health problems for animals.

Cassie Anders on January 24, 2020:

We have been battling bed bugs on and off for several years. I get rid of them, then my brother in law brings them back, that's a long angry rant for another time. Last year my family had to say good bye to our beautiful, 3 year old kitty, Amara. She was very anemic and two different vets couldn't figure out why. After 3 months there was nothing we could do to save her. I asked if bed bugs could be the cause, since this was one of our battle times. I was told it was, "unlikely."

We now have an 11 month old, 64 lbs, pup, Ziva. We are battling again and I noticed bites all over her tummy yesterday. Covering about 70% of it. So I started researching again (for the millionth time), about bed bugs and animals. Before, everything I found said they don't generally bite animals, now I'm reading that they can, they're just not the first choice.

My Amara was only 7 lbs full grown, and loved to sleep INSIDE of our couch. Is it possible her death could be related to the bugs?

Melody Collins (author) from United States on August 02, 2019:

Paula, I am sorry to hear about Sadie's rash. You're right, dogs and cats can get bedbug rashes too. Like humans, pets may or may not experience a reaction, but when they do, it's not pleasant. You are doing a good job taking care of Sadie and her bedding. Have you had your home exterminated? Bedbugs spread. If thy are on your pet, then they are probably in other places. They need to be exterminated from the whole house.

Paula chesser on July 31, 2019:

Sadie has a horrible rash and iitching is unbelieveable.. And than i spottef a bed bug.....its just awful what bed bug bites do to humans and im sure pets r the same. What do i do other than vaccum cleab wash bedding keep vlose eye on furniture ..i seem not to get rid of them...and my pet has a rash or u rhought it was but its bites can j use a. Lotion called derma on my pet and can i use vic vapor rub..to cool her skin do maybe she wont itch like crazy

April on September 13, 2014:

My cat got bite under his tail next to his hole. It is lightly bleeding.

PC on August 01, 2014:

Several years ago at the hospital where I worked I came in contact with a patient with severe bedbug infestation that also brought them with him. I believe I brought them home me and just saw them occasionally but now am getting bitten a lot. I have tried DE, Fabriclear, Raid, baby powder. I put rubbing alcohol on me every night now which has seemed to cut down on bites. I have two cats and think they bite them. I have tore my bedroom apart several times and used things to kill them but see them crawling on walls sometimes. I stay so stressed out and don't want anyone to come visit me.

mich on January 25, 2014:

This is the most useful information I have found about bedbugs and cats so far Thank you

Elah on January 08, 2013:

Rubbing alcohol kills them and probably wouldn't ruin the fabric a cat bed is made of. If it's not a huge thick one with stuffing, you could just saturate it.

klurbauer from Brink of Insanity ;) on July 14, 2012:

Wow, this kind of creeps me out a bit. I'd never thought about cats carrying bed bugs around. We have two of them and they like to "visit" other neighbors sometimes...now I'm feeling a little nervous...and itchy. Good hub with great information. Thanks!

Judy Specht from California on June 22, 2012:

I saw bedbug spray for cats at the pet store this afternoon. I would have never noticed it without your hub.

moonlake from America on June 18, 2012:

I did not know bed bugs could get on cats. I think if their on your cats bed I would throw it away and get a new one. I never like to spray anything around my cats. Lots of good information. Voted Up.

Judy Specht from California on June 16, 2012:

I am so impressed with how thoroughly you researched this topic. I read with my mouth hanging open, amazed that you have written so many entertaining hubs on bedbugs.

Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on June 16, 2012:

Got information about how to take care of your cat if you have bed bugs. I agree with you about not using sprays where your cat hangs out because of the way they are always licking everything ~ great point.

Dianna Mendez on June 15, 2012:

Your last cat photo shows a very beautiful creature. The color on the cat is such a great shade of browns. Thanks for the information on the hub. Good to know that cats are not as likeable to the bugs.