How Do I Get Rid of Bed Bugs Without Harming My Cat?

By Ruth

Bedbugs are a growing nuisance today, and unfortunately, many of the poisons on the market, both for professional and DYI use, simply don’t work anymore. The natural route can be effective if done properly, but it takes a lot of work. How clean you keep your house has nothing to do with whether or not your home can become infested with bedbugs. It can happen to literally anyone, and in some cities the issue is rising to the level of an epidemic.

Bed bugs - how to get rid of them without harming your cat

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

So if you are researching to find a way to get rid of them you are not alone. It may cheer you up slightly to know that consumer reviews of bedbug killing products are some of the most entertaining reading you can find anywhere on the Internet. Many of these reviews contain profanity, because dealing with a bedbug infestation will eventually make even the most saintly among us start to cuss. A lot. I speak from experience.

Monty – video

About two and half years ago we sound a couple bed bugs in our house. I think we found five or six total and at least three of those were found on Monty or in a location he had just been. We put all our bedding in the washer in hot water and in the dryer on the highest setting. We used a steamer on the carpets, on Monty’s cat furniture and on other furniture like inside dresser drawers at joints where small crevices could provide hiding places. We also got some diatomaceous earth. The bag came with a small duster and we learned to put a very find layer of this around our house, especially under baseboards and near the legs of furniture. Diatomaceous earth kills crawling insects by cutting them open and drying them out. They have to actually crawl through it and the earth has to be dry and fresh and in a very light amount. It actually works best if you can’t even see it is there.

We managed to get rid of the bugs quite quickly because we realized right away that Monty was bringing them in from outside. He has a secure enclosure in our back yard and he had been enjoying stalking some mice that were living in a pile of concrete blocks back there that came with the house. After we made the connection that Monty was bringing them in I endeavored to find out why. It turns out that mice are bedbugs’ second favorite food after human beings. The bugs do not live on the animal, they hide nearby. So as Monty was hiding next to the concrete blocks hoping to see a nice mouse pop his head out, the bedbugs were waiting for night time to feed on the mice. But some of them hopped onto Monty for a ride. There are certain times during a bedbug’s lifespan where hitching a ride to another location becomes sort of an imperative. One of these times is right when the female is ready to lay her eggs. She does not want the male to mate with her again and possibly hurt her, so she tries to get far away and this spreads the colony out. We were very to catch bugs that were riding in on Monty quickly, discover the source and put an end to the problem.

Bed bug close up
Bed bug close up. Picture in public domain.

So as cat guardians we need to be aware that bedbugs can hitch a ride on our feline companions. If you have bedbugs in your house and mice you really have to get rid of the mice or no matter how much DE you put around your bed to keep them from getting to you they will simply go feed on the mice. And it takes a long time to starve out a bedbug. At the right temperatures they can go up to a year without feeding.

I was worried about even using Diatomaceous earth, because I did not want to harm Monty. But it turns out it is very safe. Some people insist you need food grade, but I don’t believe that is necessary. From what I read in clinical research studies, no animal ever was harmed by being fed non food grade DE. And even though breathing it in is not good for you, it took mice exposed heavily to it for a couple hours a day for a couple of years to develop lung cancer. A mask is a good idea if you are going to be using it a lot. Just be careful not buy a kind of DE that also contains a poison. Some companies do that, which makes no sense to me since the DE is very effective along with lots of vacuuming, washing bedding and using heat to kill them.

Accounts I found online described bugs running from the steam, but I didn’t notice that. I still steamed every possible area I could think of in case there could have been eggs laid somewhere, but we had actually caught the problem early enough. That happens sometimes. I have a friend who found a couple bites on himself and one bug and he washed all his bedding and put it in the dryer and never found another bug or bite after that. I was lucky because I am actually reactive to the bites (not everyone is) and it was too early to be mosquito season. Also, bedbug bites tend to appear in a row. Often three bites in a row– breakfast, lunch and dinner. But if you don’t react to the bites, or it is the middle of summer and you live in a place where your state bird could be the mosquito, you may not realize what is going on right away.

Fast forward a couple of years and that is exactly what happened to us. Things got out of hand. We found a couple bugs and thought Monty was bringing them in again. The mice had been evicted and last winter was actually cold enough to kill them outside. (It takes at least three continuous days of some insanely cold temperature of like fourteen degrees below zero Fahrenheit– but we had reached that temperature and even colder and held there for more than three days.)

After awhile I realized I was only seeing bugs in our bedroom and even though I kept steaming Monty’s cat furniture, nothing was ever running away from the steam and the number of bugs I was finding was holding steady at about three to five per week. I had seen bugs drop off of Monty, one right into the dry bathtub after he had jumped in and out of it. But he hadn’t come from outside– he had come from our bedroom. One night when I got up to use the bathroom I petted Monty and found a bedbug clinging to his face. He was scratching a lot and so was I. My husband does not usually react to the bites, but after awhile, even he was complaining.

Our first strategy, after treating all the bedding, vacuuming and steaming and applying DE did not work, was to bathe Monty in lavender scented cat shampoo. Bedbugs hate lavender. I had switched to a lavender scented body wash and it was helping, but poor Monty was still scratching. We also still thought he was bringing them in from his enclosure. So once a week Monty got a bath in the kitchen sink. He stopped scratching, but I was still finding bugs. We tried keeping him inside, which I hated to do when the summer weather was so beautiful and he wanted nothing more than to go out. I was still finding bugs. Not many, but every time I thought I got them all there was another one.

I searched online for other natural products that would not harm Monty. I found EcoRaider and I have to say I would recommend it. You have to spray it literally everywhere, or the bugs will walk around it, but it will kill them and their eggs. Even two weeks later if they walk over a treated area, the kill rate is like 97%. After spraying that all around our bedroom I still found a bug a few weeks later! So we did the thing we never had done, but is definitely recommended if you have bed bugs. We took the bed apart. We have an old style waterbed that is like a big bag of water so we had to drain that to take the bed apart. Sure enough. We found maybe one hundred bugs under there, but I would estimate only about thirty that were still crawling around.

I made the mistake of cleaning everything with lavender scented cleaner before spraying bed components with EcoRaider. I think I actually ended up diluted its ability to kill bugs and their eggs by doing that. I created an environment they did not like, but was not lethal. So we ended up having to take the bed apart one more time before we actually got rid of all of them. In the meantime, in order to be sure nothing had spread beyond our bedroom I was tearing the entire house apart every during my every spare moment. I vacuumed, steamed, aimed a heat gun at every book I owned, threw out all cardboard boxes and replaced them with plastic tubs to store things instead and basically threw out a lot of stuff because it was easier to trash it than to ask if maybe there were bugs or their eggs in it. I never found anything in the rest of the house and mostly just drove myself crazy.

But the good thing is that the EcoRaider product seems to be a very good preventative and it did, with time and patience and a lot of work, help us get rid of our bedbugs without harming Monty. I did always make sure any areas were dry before allowing him to walk there. Initially, I reacted to the EcoRaider getting a headache and a flare of the symptoms of autonomic nervous system dysfunction I have lived with off and on ever since I suffered a severe adverse drug reaction to an antibiotic several years ago. After maybe two weeks of use the EcoRaider stopped affecting me and I could tolerate it with no issues. I also began to wonder if it has anti-viral properties, because more than once I felt like I was about to catch a cold, went to work treating an area of our house (or our friend’s apartment) with EcoRaider and then I would feel fine a few hours later, as if the cold just disappeared. I have no idea if the EcoRaider product actually helped me recover or not. I would not suggest it as a treatment for the common cold. But if you are unlucky enough to have bedbugs and a head cold coming on, who knows? Maybe that is just the time to start spraying some EcoRaider around.

We also have a little machine that is an ozone generator. We had gotten it to kill germs, but ozone can kill bed bugs if you get the concentration up high enough and tape off the room so they cannot flee from it. At the very least it can make them come out of hiding to get away from the ozone and then they walk over the DE and EcoRaider. If you get an ozone generator neither you nor your cat can be in the room when it is running. Do tape off the room. Make sure to leave the room sealed a long time even after the machine kicks off. It will take some time for the O3 molecules to revert back to O2.

Monty had to continue to have baths in lavender scented cat shampoo until we were sure the bugs were gone because otherwise he could have spread them around the house. He has a single coat, not a double coat. Fleas prefer a double coat. Monty has never had a flea on him. But I think his single coat made it easier for bed bugs to get to his skin and feed on him. He couldn’t understand that we were bathing him to stop the bugs from biting him. During his last bath he sang a song for us which he had composed just for the occasion called, “I Hate You and I Am Going to Scratch Your Face Off.” I handed Jeff a folded towel instead of opening it all the way and it was not big enough to completely wrap around Monty’s body, so his little paw shot out, scratching Jeff on the side of his face. Jeff bore that injury patiently as, after all, he had been warned. We should have trimmed Monty’s claws before attempting to bathe him, but we had been so very busy tearing the entire house apart trying to eradicate those little nightmare pests that we forgot.

We now think that during the summer when we did some traveling for the display fireworks company we work for we had actually picked up a bed bug (or two or three) at a motel we stayed at. We were slow to catch on to what had happened because the first time we had found bed bugs they had come in on the cat. It did not help that we were exhausted at the end of fireworks seasons. Lots of all nighters take their toll when you’re in your fifties. More than once we walked in the door at the time we normally get up and there was Monty, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to be fed and start our day together even though I had not slept a wink yet. Fatigue made us slow to catch on, so the problem had a chance to take hold, but at least we caught it before it spread.

I hope my story provides some help or encouragement to any other cat guardians dealing with bed bugs. It is possible to rid your home of them without having to hire exterminators or expose yourself and your cat to poisons. But you will have to work very hard and it is going to take time. Those bugs can really hide in tiny places. My best recommendation is that if you have to stay in a hotel, spray your luggage down with EcoRaider first. That is what we will be doing from now on.

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