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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I live in a large apartment building and have recently discovered that my house has bedbugs. How do I get rid of them without exposing my kitties to harmful toxins? Are the usual chemicals to get rid of bedbugs safe to use if you have cats in the house? Thanks and purrs to you all.


Siouxsie: First of all, we have a pretty good idea how unpleasant bedbugs must be. They’re like the human version of fleas! They get on you and bite and leave itchy welts.

Thomas: The good news about bedbugs is that unlike fleas, bedbugs are not known to be disease carriers.

Dahlia: But they’re still nasty and yucky! It’s making me itch just thinking about them. Excuse me a moment, I’ve got to scratch …

Siouxsie: Bedbugs can be found anywhere from flophouses to five-star hotels, so we hope you’re not too embarrassed about having them in your house.

Thomas: The most popular approach to bedbug control is called integrated pest management, which combines physical devices, chemical control, and biological management.

Dahlia: Whew! I feel better now! Anyway, chemical control, usually with pyrethrin or pyrethroids, is a big part of dealing with bedbugs. Both of these products work by severely disrupting nerve function.

Siouxsie: Pyrethrin is a natural extract of the African chrysanthemum flower, and pyrethroids are manufactured chemicals which are similar to pyrethrins but are more toxic to insects and mammals.

Thomas: Pyrethrins break down quickly in the environment, especially when exposed to natural sunlight. They are approved for use on both dogs and cats and are found in many flea shampoos, sprays, dusts, dips, and household insecticides. Pyrethrins are safe to use in cats in the correct dosage, but pyrethroids are not as safe because cats can’t metabolize them as well as dogs and people can.

Dahlia: Unfortunately, pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most commonly used and effective products to treat bedbug infestations. These chemicals get rid of living bugs quickly, and are therefore the first line of defense. According to Patricia Wagner, DVM, of the pyrethroids, cats are the most sensitive to permethrin and the least sensitive to phenothrin.

Siouxsie: They’re generally used with newer types of products including the pyrrole insecticide chlorfenapyr, the insect growth regulator hydroprene, desiccants such as diatomaceous earth or silica, and the botanical treatment 2-Phenethylpropionate.

Thomas: Desiccants work by grinding the tough shell of the bedbugs and cause them to die by dehydration. Pyrroles, insect growth regulators, and botanical treatments take longer to get rid of bedbugs, sometimes up to 10 days.

Dahlia: Desiccants and botanical compounds seem to be non-toxic to cats. In fact, 2-Phenethylpropionate is used as a food additive! Pyrroles have been shown to cause skin and eye irritation in rats and rabbits but have not caused liver failure, cancer, or other major illnesses.

Siouxsie: There are lots of other things you can do to manage your bedbug problem, and we could write an essay on that alone. But since you asked specifically about chemicals, we’ll leave the rest to the Bedbugger.com forum, which contains vast amounts of information on all aspects of bedbug control–including pesticides.

Thomas: Definitely ask the pest control people what chemicals they’re going to use in your apartment. Ask them what they recommend as far as keeping your cats safe. You may need to find your kitties a place to stay for a couple of days until the pesticides break down enough to be safe. If they treat just one room, keep the cats out of that room.

Dahlia: We hope they don’t treat just one room, though. If you want to be rid of your bedbug problem, you whole apartment needs to be decluttered and treated. Probably the neighboring apartments, too, because bedbugs do love to travel!

Siouxsie: If your pest control people do treat with pyrethrins or pyrethroids, you should know the signs of pyrethrin poisoning. Get your cats to a vet immediately if they show any of the symptoms listed in that article.

Thomas: Good luck, Adrianna. We hope those nasty little blighters get gone forever, and that your cats are safe and happy–and you’re a lot less itchy!–as a result.