Bed bugs are an incredibly common pest. Aside from human hosts, bed bugs can also feed on the blood of cats. This can make life miserable for your feline friend.
Bed bugs don’t live in cat fur. They live near your cat’s bed or resting places. You can remove bed bugs by using heat treatment, pesticides, or home remedies like diatomaceous earth. But make sure to tackle the whole infestation in your home, not just your cat.
Cats may also be able to transfer bed bugs from one house to another, or lure them in, especially in apartment blocks. That’s because cats are warm and breathe out carbon dioxide just like humans, which is what bed bugs love the most. So, let’s look at how to stop luring in bed bugs, and how to kill an existing infestation in your property.
Can Bed Bugs Live on Cats?
No, bed bugs can’t live on cats. Bed bugs don’t live on their hosts like other parasites, e.g., fleas. However, that doesn’t mean that bed bugs will leave cats alone.
If your cat has a bed, then this is the likely source of the infestation. Inspect it to see if you can see any fecal spots, and dried blood, any old shells and any live bed bugs.
Whatever you find, launder the bed at a high heat to kill any that might be there. If symptoms persist, the problem may be more widespread.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Cats?
Bed bugs can bite people or pets, or even wild animals that make their way into abandoned houses (although this is less common, for obvious reasons). This is why bed bug infestations in uninhabited houses can keep going for so long, without anybody around.
The only problem is that bed bugs don’t like fur or hair. So, they’ll find it a little more difficult to bite your pet than it would be for them to bite you.
Do Cats Attract Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are attracted to two main lures: body heat and carbon dioxide.
By following signs of carbon dioxide and finding places that are warmer than usual, they can easily find their way to their host. People, cats, and other pets all give off these signs, which is why bed bugs can find cats just as easily as they can find you.
That being said, cats can’t attract bed bugs if there isn’t already an infestation somewhere nearby. A bed bug infestation can’t just come from nowhere. Bed bugs can usually find a new host from within about six feet, but they can explore around in an attempt to find somebody.
So, if your neighbor has bed bugs, then a cat could help lure them in. But if nobody nearby has bed bugs, then there’s no way to attract them.
Where do Bed Bugs Bite Cats?
Bed bugs prefer to bite areas that don’t have a lot of hair and fur. That’s why when you wake up with bed bug bites, they’re more likely to be along your back or legs than your scalp.
When it comes to biting pets, bed bugs will pick places where they have easier access to the skin. They can’t go digging around in fur, because they’re not the right shape—they’re too big and too wide. Instead, they’ll pick more open areas such as:
- Parts of their legs
It depends on the cat. Check your cat to see where they have less fur, and whether they have bites there, if you think they’re affected by bed bugs. Cats that have thicker fur or longer fur than others are less likely to be affected, because there’s less area for the bed bugs to latch onto.
Why Do Cats Carry Bed Bugs?
Even though bed bugs can bite cats, that doesn’t mean that cats carry them. No animal can really ‘carry’ bed bugs.
Bed bugs are an ectoparasite, which means that they live outside the host. But unlike most other ectoparasites such as fleas and mites, they also don’t live on their host’s skin. Bed bugs live in places called harborages, like underneath your mattress, where they’re safe while they digest their food.
Because they live in harborages, they haven’t developed the means to cling onto a host. A flea has tiny legs and claws that are designed to wrap around a hair, so that they can hold on for dear life when you try and comb them out. Mites and lice are the same. Bed bugs can’t do that. They’re also too big to comfortably burrow their way through hair, and they don’t bite and stay attached like ticks do. So, no, cats can’t carry bed bugs.
Can Bed Bugs Be Transferred by Cats?
Despite the fact that cats can’t easily carry bed bugs, that doesn’t mean cats can’t transfer bed bugs from place to place.
First of all, since bed bugs are attracted to all animals, that means that cats can act as a sort of lure for bed bugs. In apartment blocks, it’s common for bed bugs to go from one apartment to the other—either through cracks in the walls, or just by scuttling across the hall.
They’re attracted by lures, i.e., warmth and carbon dioxide. If your cat has their bed next to the door, or next to a crack in the wall, then it’s possible for the bed bugs to be attracted in.
Aside from that, it’s hypothetically possible that a bed bug could hide underneath a cat’s collar. This is unlikely, since the collar would be moving around a lot, so the bed bug wouldn’t exactly be comfortable. But when they hitch a ride, bed bugs like to pick places that are underneath things—so a collar is unlikely but possible.
Can Bed Bugs Be Brought in from Outside?
No, cats can’t bring in bed bugs from outside. There’s a straightforward reason why it’s impossible: because bed bugs don’t live outside. Bed bugs only live indoors, in people’s homes, or second to that perhaps in the walls of inhabited buildings.
While bed bugs share many similarities with ticks, they don’t find hosts in the same way that ticks do. Ticks sit on blades of long grass waiting for people or animals to pass by, before hitching a ride. Bed bugs don’t—they can only go from house to house by hiding somewhere safe, like in somebody’s bag, in public transport/taxis/rental cars, or discarded clothing.
So, if bed bugs can’t live outside, where did they come from? What did they do before we came along? Well, bed bugs are descended from ‘bat bugs.’ These are insects that used to live in caves and feed on bats while they slept. When humans started living in caves, we offered much more food (blood) than bats did, so these insects tagged along with us. When we moved out of our caves, they came with us, living in our bedding.
After so many thousands of years, these bed bugs aren’t that different to bat bugs, and they still don’t like living out in the open. According to PLOS One, bat bugs still regularly bite people who work in mines where there are bat populations.
To be clear, your cat won’t bring in bed bugs from the outside by visiting a cave. All bed bug infestations occur after bed bugs travel from one house to another.
Can Bed Bugs Live in Cat Litter?
No, bed bugs can’t live in cat litter, for many reasons.
First of all, bed bugs don’t like to burrow under things. Their bodies are too wide and cumbersome for them to burrow into loose things like cat litter. It just wouldn’t occur to them. But more importantly than that, cat litter is made from silica gel crystals, which are famed for keeping things dry (which is why you find silica gel packets in packaging). When bed bugs come into contact with things like this, it can dry them out.
That’s how diatomaceous earth works. It’s small enough and sharp enough that it can scrape away at the lining of their shell. Once the lining is gone, they can’t conserve moisture anymore, and they very quickly dry out and die. As for whether cat litter can do the same, it’s not clear—but bed bugs don’t like overly dry places anyway.
As for whether bed bugs can live in or under the cat litter tray itself, they definitely can. They could easily squeeze under it, or hide under a plastic handle on the side. But this would only happen in the most serious of infestations.
What are the Symptoms of Bed Bugs in Cats?
The symptoms of bed bug bites in cats are the same as those in people. Bed bugs cause pink welts or spots to occur in the location of the bite. These often appear in clusters or lines, where many bed bugs have fed at once. That’s because bed bugs are attracted to the smell of other bed bugs (which is how they find their way home after they feed).
You’ll notice your cat scratching themselves and grooming more than usual. Excessive grooming is common in cats, but excessive scratching isn’t; it’s usually a sign of parasites.
How Do Bed Bugs Affect Cats?
The most obvious way that bed bugs affect cats is that the cat will be scratching the bite marks constantly. Just like the bites affect us, they can get very itchy.
As they keep scratching, they can open up little scratch wounds and maybe even bleed a little. These open wounds could potentially become infected if the cat doesn’t let them heal, and they’re infected with bacteria. Try to keep them clean if this is the case.
That being said, bear in mind that no two people or pets have the exact same reaction to bed bugs. Some people get a rash when they’re bitten, whereas others don’t. Some people’s bites are quite itchy, whereas other people’s bites aren’t. Some people don’t even get spots at all. The same applies to other animals too, so your cat may or may not display these symptoms.
Allergic Reaction to Bed Bugs in Cats
Even worse, though, is that the bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction for your cat. According to a paper in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, bed bugs can cause an IgE antibody response like the one that causes asthma.
Parasites of all kinds can cause allergic reactions, whether the parasites are internal or external. This results in the usual symptoms of an allergic reaction, including:
- Pink skin especially around the bite marks
- Swelling, either local or throughout the whole body in the worst case scenario
- A runny nose
It’s vital that you rule out other potential causes of this inflammation/allergic reaction before blaming bed bugs. The problem could be a different parasite, or something else altogether. Either way, take them to the vet, and they should be able to identify the problem.
How to Check Cats for Bed Bugs
You should make sure that the problem is bed bugs before you try and treat it. Try the following examination to see what’s affecting your cat:
- Check the cat all over for bite marks and welts, like the ones described above.
- If they have a bed, check it to see if there are bed bugs on, in or around it. Also look for fecal spots (small black spots), red dots (old blood from bite marks) and discarded shells that the bed bugs leave behind when they shed them. Whether you see them or not, wash the bed at a high heat or buy them a new one. There may be eggs that you can’t spot.
- Check around the area where your cat sleeps. Are there bed bugs underneath or inside the furniture nearby? Turn the chairs or couch over and see if there are bed bugs there. And if there are any cracks in the wall, or gaps in the sideboard nearby, check those too.
Bed Bugs vs. Fleas vs. Ticks on Cats
Cats can get ticks just like dogs can. And they can get fleas too. But there are two significant ways that bed bugs are different to fleas and ticks: appearance and behavior.
- Regarding behavior, bed bugs don’t stay in your cat’s fur. They stay in their bed/near their bed, and wait for the cat to go to sleep. Then they come out, usually at night, because they don’t like the light. They’ll feed for twenty minutes before hiding again. Fleas stay in the cat’s fur permanently, and ticks attach themselves for days on end, daylight hours or not.
- In terms of appearance, bed bugs are the size of a small apple seed. They have two distinctive antennae poking at angles from the front of their head, and they’re a mid-brown color. Fleas are the size of a grain of sand, and are black. Ticks look like bed bugs, but they have more obvious legs, and don’t scuttle around as fast as bed bugs.
Bed bugs also leave larger bite marks than fleas.
What Kills Bed Bugs on Cats?
To get rid of the bed bugs that are biting your cat, you have to get rid of every single one in the house. That includes the ones in your room, in the front room, in the hallway—anywhere that you find them. Because if you don’t, they’ll spread back again within a matter of days. Here’s a brief step by step guide to getting rid of bed bugs on cats.
- Start by cleaning your cat’s bed. If your cat has a regular bed that they sleep in all the time, then the odds are that there are some bed bugs underneath or around it. You can either wash and dry the bed, or buy them a new one.
- Do the same around your house. Any furniture, furnishings or similar has to be cleaned or replaced. It’s a big job but if you don’t do it, the bed bugs will be back, and quick.
- Buy a mattress encasement (and if necessary, a box spring encasement) to get rid of the bed bugs at the source.
This should be enough to get rid of most of the bed bugs. The source of the vast majority of bed bugs is your bed, so by isolating these bed bugs with an encasement, you’re taking a big step towards dealing with the problem. Then, kill the remainder in your furniture by using a spray or a steam cleaner.
Use Bed Bug Lures
Cats do attract bed bugs. That’s because they breathe out carbon dioxide and give off heat just like we do. That’s why bed bug lures are such an effective way to kill bed bugs.
Bed bug lures usually give off carbon dioxide, but can also give off a cocktail of other chemicals as well as heat to attract bed bugs. Put a lure near your bed, and near your cat’s bed, and it will draw in plenty of bed bugs. This won’t kill every single bed bug in the house, but it will make the infestation more manageable.
What Not to Use to Remove Bed Bugs
Don’t use tea tree oil or other essential oils to kill bed bugs on cats. Cats and other animals are allergic to tea tree oil. So, we would recommend trying something else like a steam cleaner.
Some people choose to use pyrethrins and pyrethroids to kill bed bugs. These two pesticides are highly effective, but are poisonous to cats, dogs, and even other pets like snakes. Pyrethrins were invented not as a pesticide, but as a chemical that could kill brown tree snakes—and they’re highly toxic to most animals. According to Public Health Reports, people who work with them are regularly poisoned. Avoid using them if you have any pets whatsoever.