Ask Elizabeth: November 2010

Dear Elizabeth, I cant believe Im writing this, but we have bed bugs in our home. We recently vacationed in Europe, and evidently brought home some unwanted hitchhikers. I thought only low rent motels were a source of bed bugs, but we stayed at beautiful, exclusive hotels, and now I find myself wondering what went wrong.

Weve hired a licensed exterminator and will move out of our home when the exterminator is using pesticides in the house, but Im concerned for our cats. Should we move them out too and, if so, is there any risk of the bed bugs hitching a ride on the cats?

It may bring you some comfort to know that you are not alone with your bed bug infestation, as the once rare pest has been making a comeback worldwide. While bed bugs were quite common in the pre-World War II days, they were virtually eliminated in the United States after the war, with the use of the pesticide DDT. Now, with the increase in worldwide travel and the development of resistance to DDT and other pesticides, bed bug populations are booming. And its not just travelers who are


experiencing infestations … in any places large numbers of people come and go frequently, bed bugs are easily transmitted, so dormitory rooms, apartments and office buildings are places that tend to experience more problems with the little pests. Even some of the fanciest hotels and buildings have been infested with bed bugs.

Bed bugs – also known as Cimex lectularius – are small, flat reddish-brown bugs (about the size of an apple seed) which feed on human blood. Typically, the bugs feed for a few minutes at night, while people are sleeping, and spend most of their time hiding in small cracks and crevices. While bed bugs are not known to spread any diseases, their bites can leave itchy welts. Knowing they are present can be a source of great stress, keeping people awake at night as they worry about the bugs and the social stigma attached to them. That old saying, “sleep tight, dont let the bed bugs bite” is not so humorous when you know the little beasts are in your home! Additionally, the cost and effort for getting rid of the bugs can be substantial.

Im glad to hear that youve hired a professional pest control operator, since bed bugs can be difficult to eradicate, and a professional can advise you on the best methods for eliminating the bugs. An integrated pest management policy is recommended, combining appropriate pesticides, if needed, with techniques such as steam cleaning, laundering, vacuuming, eliminating hiding spots and reducing clutter. Pesticides can be dangerous, both to you and your cats, and bed bugs are resistant to many pesticides. A professional will be trained and up-to-date on the safest, most effective products available, and can also give advice on which non-pesticidal techniques are most appropriate for your situation. Eliminating bed bugs wont happen by simply spraying some pesticides around your home. A concentrated effort and knowledge of the bugs habits and biology is necessary for success.

If pesticides are being used in your house, it would be safest to remove the cats during the pesticide application. Bed bugs prefer to feed on humans, but they will occasionally bite other animals, including cats, especially if humans are in short supply. They do not, however, live on animals. Since bed bugs are visible, you can comb through your cats fur just to be sure no bed bugs are present. To be sure that youre not bringing along any unintended guests, dont place any bedding or newspapers, which could conceal the bugs, in the cat carrier. Its not necessary or advisable to use any pesticides on the cats themselves.

For more information on bed bugs, contact your state cooperative extension or public health office, or see Cornells brochure: Best of luck to you on getting rid of your unwanted houseguests! Love, Elizabeth