Bed Bugs on Dogs: Signs, Risks, and What to Do

Published November 9, 2022
Woman looking at her pet

You definitely don't want to let bed bugs bite you, but did you know they can also attack your dog? These parasitic insects feed on the blood of both people and animals, and while they're likely not a serious health threat to your dog, they can cause significant skin irritation and are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Noticing a bed bug infestation is the first step. Learning what bed bugs look like and the signs of their presence are key to reducing the risk of your dog being bitten.

What Bed Bugs Look Like

Bed bugs are small, flat insects that feed on blood. They don't fly or jump, but they can crawl very quickly. Bed bug adults are brownish-red, about the size of an apple seed, and have a flattened oval shape. Their bodies are longer than they are wide and have no wings or antennae. They have six legs, like all insects, and they grow to about 5/8-inch long and 1/5-inch wide.

A single bed bug on a blanket fiber

You also need to know how to spot their eggs. Bed bug eggs are white or off-white and oval, with a smooth shell that is 1/64 of an inch long (they're very hard to spot). Adult females produce around one egg per day, and they can lay them in batches of up to five to 10 eggs at a time, especially after they've fed on blood. Bed bugs can live for a year or more, and females can product hundreds of eggs during their lifespan. The nymphs, or immature bed bugs, look similar to adults but are smaller.

It isn't always easy to spot bed bugs, because they are so small and notoriously sneaky. They hide together, out of sight, within fabric folds or in small cracks and crevices, only coming out at night to feed. You'll likely see signs of an infestation before you spot these creepy crawlies scurrying around. Watch out for:

  • Blood spots on your sheets or mattresses, or around your dog's bedding
  • Black or brown spots where they've been laying eggs (often in hidden locations, so check under and around bedding)
  • Live or dead bedbugs in the seams of your mattress, box spring, headboard, and furniture legs, or around pet bedding

Signs of Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites can be itchy and cause irritated skin. You're more likely to notice the irritated skin than actually see a bed bug in your dog's fur, especially during the day or in a well-lit room. Bed bugs feed on your dog, and once they're done with their meal, they'll find a way to get off the pet and leave. When a dog gets bitten by a bed bug, they will probably scratch at the bite itself. You might see redness around where the bite occurred, or swelling around that area of skin.

Of course, these symptoms can mimic those you might see with a flea or tick infestation on your pet. Learn to spot the signs of these nasty buggers to help eliminate them as culprits. If you are sure your dog doesn't have fleas or ticks, and they're being treated for these, you might suspect a bed bug bit.

This is why it's important to keep an eye out for any signs of irritation or scratching on your pup's body. If you notice signs of bed bugs, like your dog scratching at random locations on their skin, or you find red, irritated skin, take them to your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can determine whether or not the itchy patches are the result of bed bug bites or something else.

Transmitting Disease

Bed bugs can transmit disease, but it's not common. Bed bugs may be able to transmit blood-borne pathogens, such as hepatitis B and C, as well as Staphylococcus, but this doesn't happen often -- if at all. In other words, if you have a cut on your skin and you're bitten by a bed bug, you might be at risk of getting an infection from it. The same is true for your dog. There's a possibility something might spread, but it isn't a massive concern.

Puppy scratching on sofa

Infection is most likely if the bed bug bites in the same place as a wound or any other open sore. However, it's also possible to get an infection from being bitten by a bed bug in general, not just in places where there are wounds.

Bed bugs only feed on blood, which means they must be near the host, like a person or dog sleeping in bed, in order to bite them. Since they don't travel far, this makes it difficult for them to spread disease from one human or animal host to another. Although it's theoretically possible, this is why it's unlikely for your dog to contract a disease from a bed bug bite.

Bed Bug Infestations

Typically, bed bugs don't stick around after feeding, so it's unlikely they'll hitch a ride into your home on your dog's back. However, bed bugs can make their way into your pet's bedding, such as when you take your dog's favorite blanket with you to a pet-friendly hotel, for example. These pests are famous for piggybacking into fresh territory by hiding in fabric -- such as your dog's bed -- leading to an infestation in your home. If you are worried about your dog getting bed bug bites, it's best to avoid taking them to hotels and other places with high-traffic areas.

That's not to say every hotel has bed bugs. However, when you enter the room, checking the bed and crevices is recommended. You won't notice bed bugs out in the open in a well-lit room. They don't like the light and there's most active in dark rooms or at night. If there are bed bugs, the likelihood of you seeing the warning signs is high if you look in the right places. Fortunately, many hotel chains are fairly clean and do a good job of keeping these pests away. However, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Allergic Reactions to Bed Bugs

Allergies can be a little tricky, but don't worry. Although uncomfortable, your dog's allergic reactions to bed bugs are probably not as bad as they seem.

First, it's important to understand that there are two types of reactions: immediate and delayed. Immediate reactions include itching, inflammation, or swelling at the site of exposure. Delayed reactions include skin lesions and hair loss that can last for months after exposure. Dogs suffer from both kinds of reactions when they're exposed to bed bugs. However, it's rare for them to have an immediate reaction in the first 24 hours after being bitten by a bed bug because their immune system doesn't recognize the insect as foreign until around 72 hours later.

So what are some signs that your dog is having an allergic reaction? Itching is usually one of the most common symptoms, but you should also look out for redness or swelling around the bite site. If your dog has any of these symptoms, take them to see a vet right away so they can help determine whether or not they need treatment.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

A bed bug infestation is no joke! Luckily, there are steps you can take at home to prevent these pests from invading your home in the first place. And if all else fails? We've got some tips for getting rid of them once they're there too!

If your dog has already been bitten by a bed bug, clean up the area where they were sleeping with soap and water before treating them. You may also use sprays, powders, or other products that kill bed bugs in areas where they might reside in order to prevent future infestations. Wash your dog's bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit), dry it completely, and put it in plastic bags for two weeks before using it again so that any eggs that remain on it will die off without hatching into more adult insects during this time period.

You will likely have to do the same with your own bedding and other furniture in your home, depending on how far they've spread. Getting rid of these pests can be a process. If you still have bed bugs or see signs of their presence after cleaning up, there is a strong likelihood you will need to call an exterminator. Bed bugs are known to be hardy, and they can survive in even the harshest of conditions.

Take Care of the Problem

If you notice your dog scratching and biting at their skin, or if they have redness and swelling where the bed bugs have bitten them, these are signs they may be experiencing an allergic reaction. Dogs with severe allergic reactions may need to go to the vet for treatment with antihistamines. If that happens, it's important for you to contact a professional pest control company immediately so that they can help you get rid of the bed bugs in your home or apartment as soon as possible.

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Bed Bugs on Dogs: Signs, Risks, and What to Do