Safety Tips: Pets and Bedbugs
Get the facts on protecting your pet from pests.
The bedbug craze continues to catch New York City by storm, with residents reporting an estimated 7,021 complaints of the blood-sucking bugs in the first seven months of this year.
No individual, establishment or building, from recently infested Nike and Abercrombie & Fitch clothing stores to the Empire State Building, is safe from the epidemic. That also includes dogs, cats, birds and all other warm-blooded pets, which serve as prime game for the semi-nocturnal, parasitic insects.
Pet owners can best protect their pets from bedbug bites by ensuring that their homes are bedbug free. That isn’t always possible, though, and if homes do become infested, it might prove more traumatic for the owner than for the pet or pets. What’s ultimately the bigger issue and potential hazard is the pesticide treatments used to eliminate bedbugs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. The chemical often used in eradicating bedbugs, called pyrethrin, can be safe if used correctly around pets — but serious illness and even death can occur if it is not.
In 2009, nearly 11,000 calls about bedbugs were made to New York City’s information line, marking a drastic increase from the 537 calls made in 2004. A pest control company recently ranked New York City the most infested city nationwide, according to Linda Rosenthal, a New York State Assemblymember who introduced legislation this year requiring landlords to disclose to prospective tenants any history of bedbug infestation in the apartment building and individual unit within the past year.
“Bedbugs have caused terrible panic, discomfort and financial hardship for those afflicted, but it’s important that people safeguard their pets while the exterminators do their work,” Rosenthal said. “Pesticides can cause grave injury and even death to cats, dogs, birds and other pets, so we have to make sure they are not exposed to this danger.”
The fast spread of the rust-colored, apple-seed sized bugs, which nestle into cracks of furniture, walls, pillows and mattresses and tend to bite people and animals’ shoulders and arms, tends to make people uneasy, but they should first recognize that bedbugs do not live on the body of their host.
“Dogs, cats and other pets, much like humans, cannot carry bedbugs,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, the ASPCA’s senior director of veterinary outreach and education. “You could see bites on them, most likely in their stomach area, depending on how much fur they have, but even if that is the case, there is no need to physically treat your pet.”
Ridding a home of bedbugs, which can usually be identified if not by the blind eye than by their droppings or by little blood stains they leave on mattresses, can be a tricky process that should always include a licensed, professional exterminator. Bed bugs can survive for up to a year without feeding and can adapt to a wide range of temperatures.
Though necessary, the routine pesticide treatment — the New York City Department of Health recommends at least three visits — is the most dangerous aspect of having, and then ridding one’s home of the blood-eating insects.
“You want to make sure you keep pets out of the area where you have people spraying and that the pets do not go into the area until it is completely dried, which is usually a 24-hour period,” explained Wismer. “Animals are really sensitive to the inhalation of pesticides like this but they can also get sick if it is still wet by absorbing it through their skin, or licking it off their paws.”
Dogs and cats typically display symptoms like vomiting and drooling if they have somehow ingested or absorbed the pesticides. Birds tend to puff up, and will usually be at the bottom of their cages, displaying difficulty breathing.
People should not try to treat their homes themselves, Wismer cautions, as this strategy will likely prove both ineffective and potentially more dangerous for both the people and pets in the house. If they do treat their homes on their own, they should always be sure, as always, to read the label very carefully.
The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center fielded nearly 30,000 calls related to insecticides last year, a 5 percent increase from the year before. If your dog or cat is exposed to a potentially toxic substance, contact your local veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888)-426-4435.
Have you heard about pet owners battling bedbug infestations? Share your stories below!
5 years ago
We have bedbugs. I also have 6 cats and 2 birds. the cats are fine, but I am worried about my birds. We made a mistake and put the infected mattress not more than 3 feet from the bird cage. I read that bedbugs can live on birds and mice. What do I do about my birds. The vet I called is on vacation until tuesday. any suggestions or information.
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