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Can a Cat Detect Bed Bugs? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat curling on bed

Can a Cat Detect Bed Bugs? Facts & FAQ

Cats have extraordinary eyesight and sense of smell and are well-known to excel at hunting. Many cat owners have also witnessed their cat catching a fly in midair! But if cats are such great hunters, including tracking down tiny spiders, can they also detect bed bugs?

There is a chance that cats can indeed smell bed bugs, but as you probably know, it’s difficult to get cats to do anything that they don’t want to do, so you won’t be seeing any professional bed bug cat detectors any time soon.

Here, we discuss bed bugs and cats, as well as dogs (for a good reason), and whether you can actually train your cat to hunt these obnoxious pests!

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A Little About a Cat’s Senses

Cats have excellent senses that excel our own (except for taste). When it comes to touch, sight, hearing, and smell, cats are super in tune with their environment and can sense things that we can’t.

Touch

Cats use their sensitive whiskers to navigate their surroundings. Whiskers give cats the ability to sense their environment, particularly tight spaces. They can also detect vibrations in the air, which lets the cat know when their prey is nearby.

cat touching a human finger_Jumpstory


Hearing

Cats have excellent hearing and can pick up sounds beyond dogs’ and humans’ hearing. This includes the ability to hear in high frequency, also known as ultrasonic.

They can also swivel their ears 180 degrees independent of each other, which enables them to precisely locate where a sound is coming from, even if it’s the tiniest prey, such as a mouse scurrying across the floor (which we definitely can’t hear).


Sight

Cats are crepuscular, so they are active at dusk and dawn, which has an impact on their eyesight. The way that a cat sees enables them to see much better than us in low light so they can hunt at those times.

Their eyesight is peripheral, and they can see motion in the dark quite well. This makes them exceptional hunters, which comes in handy because many rodent species are also only active at dusk and dawn.

a close up of an orange tabby cat
Image Credit: Sam Chang, Unsplash

Smell

A cat’s sense of smell is one of their most important senses. They have a minimum of 200 million scent receptors in their noses, whereas humans have about 5 million. Their noses enable them to sniff out prey and give them information about where you’ve been and who you’ve met. Their noses keep them safe and are essential for their survival.

yarn ball dividerCan Cats Detect Bed Bugs?

Probably! The nature of the typical cat makes this a difficult question to answer. A cat’s senses are acute enough to detect bed bugs, and it is conceivable that cats can hear, smell, sense, and see them. It’s also possible for a cat to be curious enough to hunt them down. You’ve probably seen your own cat hunting many different insects.

Bed bugs have a sweetish-musty smell that humans will only be able to smell if there’s a severe infestation (and you won’t need a cat to tell you that you have bed bugs at that point!). So, cats will unquestionably be able to detect them by smell, and their microsounds and movements would also be perceivable.

That said, bed bugs are most active in the middle of the night, and cats tend to be asleep at this time. They also aren’t the most obedient of species.

They aren’t quite as food motivated as dogs, for one thing, and while cats can be trained to do a few tricks, there currently doesn’t seem to be any cats used to detect bed bugs. But if your cat seems to be uncommonly interested in your mattress, you might want to call an exterminator.

Bed Bug-Sniffing Dogs

The tricky thing about bed bugs is that it can be difficult for an exterminator to find exact locations, particularly the eggs. You might know that they are in the mattress, but in more extreme infestations, they can spread to almost anything with seams and corners.

Some exterminators have dogs specially trained to detect bed bugs in every life cycle — eggs, larvae, and adults. It’s essential to remove everything or the infestation will return.

Dogs have a whopping 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses. Due to their sense of smell and how well they take to training, they can be quite effective at locating bed bugs.

The biggest issues are that it’s expensive to use one of these dogs and that the accuracy isn’t always there — too much depends on the dog and the trainer. That said, you can probably find bed bug detection dogs in almost every city.

american staffordshire terrier sniffing blanket near clothes on bed
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Can Cats Get Bitten by Bed Bugs?

Cats won’t carry bed bugs the same way that they can carry fleas. While bed bugs are opportunistic and can feed from your cat, their main target is unfortunately us humans. They find their way into people’s homes by attaching themselves to clothing or bags. They can also find their way in through tiny crevices, like electrical outlets.

They are drawn by the carbon dioxide that we exhale. Once they home in, they anesthetize the spot where they bite you, so you don’t feel it. They will always choose a human over an animal — our carbon dioxide emanations are just that appealing. Even if a cat is closer than a human, bed bugs will go that extra distance to feed on us.

But if a human isn’t around, the bed bugs will gravitate to any living thing, including your cat.

What Should You Do If You Find Bed Bugs?

If your cat is showing intense interest in your mattress (and not in the curling up and sleeping kind of way) or you’ve received bites, wash all your bedding in hot water and dry it at the highest heat setting. If pests are also in your pet’s bedding, wash it the same way. Wipe down any surfaces with rubbing alcohol, and vacuum surfaces well (and empty the vacuum immediately afterward).

That said, eradicating all bed bugs from your home should be left to qualified exterminators. Speak with them before they treat your house to ensure that their method is safe for your pets.

Top Load Washing Machine
Image Credit: Opat Suvi, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

The jury is out if cats can detect bed bugs. They likely can, but they probably can’t be trained to do so. If your cat is suddenly interested in your mattress, it might not necessarily be bed bugs. Cats find almost anything interesting!

Hopefully, you don’t have bed bugs and are just reading this out of curiosity. But if you do need to use a pet to find bed bugs, stick with a dog. Cats probably consider themselves too above this kind of work, anyway!


Featured Image Credit: Anton Lochov, Unsplash

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