Are Bed Bugs Dangerous to People, Pets and Property?

Bed bug bites can be the first sign of infestation. Find out if bed bugs are dangerous and what can be done to keep them from darkening your door.

The nocturnal bed bug is a teeny-tiny, flat parasite that feeds off the blood of animals and humans. Most often found hiding in the folds and ribbing of cushioned furnishings, like couches and mattresses, a female bed bug is capable of reproducing hundreds of offspring in her approximate 300-day lifespan.

It doesn’t matter if you sleep in a tidy home, a seedy roadside motel or a five-star resort, the chances of encountering bed bugs are the same.

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous to People?

The good news is that bed bugs don’t carry or transmit disease, so they don’t pose a serious health risk. The bad news is bed bug bites can leave behind red, swollen marks and, for those who suffer from allergies, a reaction could require seeing a doctor.

Bites

Like fleas, a single bed bug can bite its host several times. What’s unique about a bed bug is that it injects the host (animal or human) with a kind of anesthetic and an anticoagulant (to inhibit bleeding), preventing most people from even realizing they been bitten. The evidence of a bite usually doesn’t appear until a day or two later.

Bed bug bites usually itch so if one scratches too much there’s a chance of secondary skin infections. Home remedies that soothe the effects of bites include washing the area with soap and water or applying anti-itch cream. Bites usually disappear in a few days or up to a week, tops.

Allergies

In rare cases, bed bugs could trigger a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that requires immediate medical attention. For the majority of people, however, treating bite allergies with over-the-counter antihistamines and topical antibiotic creams is sufficient.

Mental Health

The negative consequences of a bed bug infestation aren’t always physical. The stress and mental anguish brought on by living with bed bugs are often overlooked or downplayed. A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggested that those exposed to bed bugs are at higher risk of experiencing mental health issues.

Signs of psychological trauma linked to bed bugs infestation include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous to Pets?

Unlike ticks and fleas, bed bugs don’t live on your cat or dog, preferring sleeping human beings instead.

What is more potentially dangerous to pets is how you remove bed bugs. If you own pets and have an infestation, make sure to use methods that won’t harm your pets, like steam, traps, essential oils or other pet-friendly bed bug insecticides.

“Many pesticides, such as Deltametrin, can have strong adverse effects on dogs and cats, such as excessive drooling, coordination problems, muscle tremors, and vomiting,” says Ed Spicer of Pest Strategies. “Other “regular” pesticides can have similar effects on your pets even when those pesticides are not considered dangerous to humans.”

Do Bed Bugs Damage Homes and Yards?

Bed bugs don’t do damage to plants or landscaping, because to survive they need to feed on animal or human blood.

Indoors is another story. Bed bugs don’t do structural damage to homes, like termites and rodents, but the loss of property (having to throw out your couch, for instance) and the cost to professionally exterminate these repulsive parasites can be quite high.

Bed Bug Prevention and Removal

Keep in mind that just about anyone is capable of transporting bed bugs by sharing sleeping quarters, taking public transportation or even going to the cinema.

The best way to stop a bed bug infestation is to take steps to lower the chances of getting bed bugs in the first place.

Typical Signs of Bed Bugs

  • The bugs themselves (the size of an apple seed)
  • Dark droppings (fecal matter)
  • Dried blood (from smashed bugs)
  • Eggs (look like grains of salt)
  • Remains of exoskeletons (molted)

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.