Bedbug-free travel with pets

Bedbugs: no insect grabs as many headlines. But you can keep them from grabbing headlines at your house by making sure your pet doesn't pick any up on the road. And it's not that difficult or pricey.

Jeff Ehling's Action 13 piece on protecting pets from bedbugs on the road featured several commonsense tips for bedbug-proofing your cat or dog – but first, he talked about whether a vacation infestation is even something you need to worry about. Well, unfortunately…it is. A research entomologist, Jeffery White of Bedbug Central, told Ehling that "any pet" could become a "food source" for a bedbug, including birds and rodents – and Ehling also cited a fairly disturbing survey that found 67 percent of pest-management businesses have treated hotel rooms for bedbugs. (Note: that means two thirds of the companies treated the problem – not that two thirds of hotel rooms have the problem. That's how we read it at first, and we totally vowed to sleep in the car for the rest of our lives until rereading the stat.)

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We've all heard the icky stories about hotel-room bedspreads and, um, underwhelming attention to cleaning detail anyway, so, as much as we might want to believe that our vacation digs are spotless, it's totally possible that a previous occupant brought in bedbugs – and the little jerks are now looking for a ride out of town. Pet hair is perfect for that. Good news, though: according to the American Veterinary Medical Association's Kimberly May, the pests don't usually "live on pets long term," and also don't pose as much of a biting problem as fleas and ticks.

Still: nobody wants 'em around. How to make sure Rex doesn't pick up unwanted passengers, and then infest your house:

Inspect hotel rooms and other lodgings. Do this before you bring your pet inside. It might take a few minutes, as White told Ehling that you'll want to check the out-of-the-way spots bedbugs prefer, like the headboard or the box spring. But you won't need a magnifying glass or specially-trained beagle; you can see bedbugs with the naked eye.

Monitor your pet's bedding. This is where an ambitious insect is most likely to hitchhike, so before you leave, treat your pet carrier with a repellent spray (make sure it's pet-safe, or ask your vet for a recommendation). On the road, eyeball the bedding regularly – and maybe confine it to the bathroom, where bugs are less common (and easier to spot). Check it each time you leave a hotel or rental, before you put it in the car – and before it darkens your doorstep at home, launder it in the hottest possible water. If the outside of the mattress is torn, giving critters a place to burrow and/or hide out, get rid of the entire shebang. If you can afford it, you might consider keeping a second carrier and/or set of bedding just for trips.

Monitor your pet. You'd do this anyway, and again, bedbugs aren't known carriers of disease – but their bites will annoy your pet, and if you see them, you can fight them. Ehling's piece suggests making a pit stop at the groomer's even before you get home and unpack, for a quick shampoo and de-bug before Fido flops down on the couch.

Ehling adds that flea and tick sprays aren't proven to fight bedbugs – but they can't hurt, and will of course guard against other parasites that WOULD do harm.

We're not trying to add to anyone's bedbug-anoia here – sometimes, all worrying about bedbugs does is give you phantom itchies – but when it comes to pets and travel, it seems pretty easy to stay on top of any problems. If your pet picked up a bedbug or fifty on the road, or if you've got any prevention tricks, please share in the comments!

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