We are a nation of animal lovers. If there’s any doubt in that we need only look at the most recent statistics. According to the latest census, 68% of US households have at least one pet. That’s nearly 85 million families. Whether it’s a cat or a dog, a parrot or an iguana, Americans love to make space in their lives and their homes for their animal friends.

Of course, owning a pet comes with some responsibilities. We feed and care for them. We may even tend to pamper them. And we have to make sure that they visit the vet regularly and are kept up to date with their shots as well as their flea and tic treatments. In short, we treat them like one of the family and we want them to be happy and healthy. But where do our pets stand when it comes to bed bugs? Are they as vulnerable as we are, and should we be taking more proactive steps to protect them from these nefarious parasites?

Can Cats and Dogs Play Host to Bed Bugs?

This can be a tricky question to answer. As a general rule, bed bugs avoid furry hosts. They find it difficult to maneuver through the pet’s hair, and more often than not animal would feel the bed bug shuffling around on its body and scratch or chew to relieve the itch. That would likely disturb the bed bug and drive it to another host.

However, while bed bugs may prefer less hairy hosts (in other words, humans) that doesn’t mean that they will ignore a sleeping cat or dog if they’re hungry enough. When there is no human food source available bed bugs will happily feed on the family pet. This is generally a hit and run proposition. The bed bug will feed briefly and then move on to look for shelter or a better food source. Ultimately, this means that the bed bug will only be on your pet for a brief time. This limits, but does not entirely eliminate, the risk of a full scale infestation on your cat or dog.

Can Bed Bugs Spread Disease to Your Pets?

While fleas and tics may spread diseases to household pets, bed bugs are not known to carry any transmittable pathogens. That’s the good news. Having said that, bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction in cats and dogs just as they might in humans. The irritation the pet feels is also an issue, with animals often scratching repeatedly at affected areas. This repeated scratching can often lead to skin infections that may need to be treated by a veterinarian.

Pets as Bed Bug Transportation

While bed bugs may not be interested in your pets as hosts, they are more than willing to use them as taxis. Household pets, particularly cats and dogs, can easily pick up bed bugs when they venture outside of the home. Just as they may track mud or dirt into the house after playing in the back yard, so can they bring bed bugs into the house when they return from an outside adventure. The bed bugs may not stay on your pet, but they can easily use the family cat or dog as a way to enter your family’s home.

What to do if You Find Bed Bugs on Your Pets

If you suspect that the family pet has brought bed bugs into your home it’s important to act quickly. While the bed bugs are unlikely to harm your cat or dog, once they are inside they will scatter and begin to set up their colony. So time is of the essence.

The first thing to do is to wash your pets’ bedding in hot water and dry everything at the highest heat your clothes dryer offers. The same holds true for your family’s bedding. Give it a hot wash and dry as well.

Next, vacuum out your pets’ carrier or sleeping area. Get into all the cracks and crevices to ensure your catch any stray eggs. Remember, bed bugs can hide in the smallest places, so be as thorough possible.

Finally, if you think that one of your pets may have carried bed bugs into your home schedule a full inspection as soon as possible. Bed bugs can spread extremely quickly, and if you have some stragglers on one of your pets there’s a good chance they have begun to move throughout the house.

You, Your Pets and Bed Bugs

As animal lovers we naturally want to take great care of our pets. While there’s little chance that bed bugs will actively harm your cat or dog, they may well bedevil them with occasional bites. They may also use your pets as a way to come into your home, causing nightmares for you and your family in the future. If you think your pets have had contact with some bed bugs, take that as an early warning that your home may be vulnerable to an invasion from these nasty little creatures. Be proactive, and take the necessary steps to protect you, your family, and your beloved pets from these blood sucking parasites.