Bed bugs are small non-flying insects belonging to the Hemipterans that feed on blood of all kinds of mammals, particularly on humans, but also on poultry and other birds and on many mammals, including cattle, sheep, goats, swine, dogs and cats. Bed bugs can become a serious pest in poultry houses.
Bed bugs are obligate parasites, i.e. they cannot survive without feeding blood of their hosts.
There are two species of veterinary importance for livestock and pets:
- Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug, is found worldwide and is the predominant species in regions with temperate climate
- Cimex hemipterus, the tropical bed bug, is found worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions.
So far it has not been proven that bed bugs transmit diseases of humans, livestock or pets, but they often cause allergic reactions.
Are animals infected with Bed bugs contagious for humans?
- YES. Bed bugs do not live on their hosts but hidden in cracks and crevices in their surroundings. They visit their hosts only for feeding, mainly during the night. When searching for food they will bite not only animals in stables of chicken in a poultry house, but any other suitable host they may found, including humans. See the life cycle below for additional information.
You can find additional information in this site on the general biology of insects.
Biology and life cycle of bed bugs
Adult bed bugs are wingless insects, 4 to 9 mm long, rather flat, with an oval shape and a brownish to yellowish color. They undergo an incomplete metamorphosis (i.e. they are hemimetabolic) and the immature stages (larvae and nymphs) look similar to the adults but are smaller. The life cycle can be completed in about 5 weeks at 33°C, but takes up to 6 months at <20°C.
Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding. Development stops at temperatures below 13°C, but the bugs can survive temperatures up to -10°C. They are very resistant to dryness. Each female lays 200 to 500 eggs in her lifetime (up to 2 years), mostly in their hiding places.
All the stages feed on blood of their hosts, which they visit mainly during the night. Immature stages need at least one blood meal for molting, and adult females need additional blood for egg production. During the day they hide in cracks, crevices and other hollow spaces in buildings, equipment, furniture, household objects, etc.
Bed bugs have been a human pest since prehistoric times, but during the last century they were controlled quite effectively with household insecticides. However, a very strong resurgence of bed bug infestations in human dwellings has taken place beginning in the 1990's. This resurgence seems to be related to the spreading of bug populations resistant to synthetic pyrethroids, the pesticides most commonly used against them.
It is rather likely that the proliferation of resistant bed bugs in human dwellings will sooner or later lead to a similar resurgence in poultry houses and other livestock facilities that offer an appropriate environment for the establishment of bed bugs.
Harm to poultry, dogs and cats, and economic loss due to bed bugs
Bed bugs are seldom a problem in confined livestock (cattle, sheep, swine, etc.) operations. But they can become a serious pest in cooks and poultry houses, particularly in layer and breeder operations. The bugs visit the birds at night to feed blood. Each blood meal takes up to 1 hour. The bugs' saliva contains various substances that cause allergic reactions in the hosts.
The birds are stressed and develop skin inflammations, particularly in the breast and the legs. The birds may bite themselves and lose feathers. Massive infections can cause anemia due to excessive blood loss. Bug feces leave small spots on the eggs that can reduce their value.
Bed bugs will also feed on dogs and cats in human dwellings. But in infected households bed bugs will prefer to feed on humans than on pets. And since they leave their hosts during the day, it is unusual to find bed bugs on dogs or cats, as it happens with fleas, ticks and other external parasites.
Bed bugs are as annoying for dogs and cats as for their owners: they cause skin irritation, inflammation and itching of variable intensity, but usually they are not a serious pest as ticks, fleas and other external parasites.
Prevention and control of bed bug infestations
The most important and effective preventative measure is to eliminate potential shelters for the bugs, or at least reduce their number as much as possible. Potential shelters are whatever hollow places in equipment (tubing, fencing, feeders.) or buildings (hollow floors and ceilings, cracks and crevices, etc.) where bugs hide and congregate during the day.
Unfortunately this is not always easy to achieve without costly investments in adapting facilities and equipment. Since bed bugs can be introduced in poultry houses by other mammals and birds, it is very important to restrain their access to poultry houses and coops.
It is not easy to control established bed bug populations in poultry houses with insecticides. Treating the birds is mostly useless, because the bugs spend most of the time in their shelters. It is crucial to thoroughly treat the bug shelters, which usually requires power spraying or fumigation with insecticides (mainly synthetic pyrethroids and organophosphates).
Since the bugs' eggs are not killed and a few bugs will also survive the first treatment, spraying or fumigation must be repeated at least once, better twice with about 2 weeks interval. The problem is that bed bug resistance to numerous insecticides is now widespread, particularly pyrethroid resistance, and there are not many alternative insecticides of other chemical classes approved for use on poultry facilities.
An alternative to using insecticides is sustained heating of the houses when empty, which usually needs special equipment. Heat must reach at least 55°C during 1-2 hours.
Controlling bed bugs in human dwellings is as difficult as in poultry facilities. It usually has to be done by professional PCOs (Pest Control Operators). In most countries there are no products for on-animal treatment approved for bed bug control or prevention on dogs or cats. Some spot-on and insecticide-impregnated collars may offer a certain protection, but probably incomplete and nor very long-lasting.
There are no really effective repellents to keep bed bugs away from pets or humans. In ever, they would work only for a few hours.
There are no vaccines either to protect dogs or cats, poultry, humans or any other animals against bed bugs.
So far biological controlof bed bugs (i.e. using its natural enemies) is not possible. Learn more about biological control of flies and other insects.
Click here if you are interested in medicinal plants for controlling flies and other external parasites of livestock and pets.
Resistance of bed bugs to insecticides
Resistance of Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus to synthetic pyrethroids is now widespread worldwide. There are also reports on confirmed resistance to organochlorines and organophosphates in numerous countries.
This means that if an insecticide fails to achieve the expected efficacy against bed bugs, chance is significant that it is due to resistance of the bed bugs to the active ingredient in the insecticide used. But remember that most cases of product failure are not due to resistance but to incorrect use.
Learn more about parasite resistance and how it develops
Ask your veterinary doctor! If available, follow more specific national or regional recommendations for bed bug control