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Sniffing Out Bed Bugs

When planning this year’s Meet the Breeds in New York City, our staff here at PetPartners, provider of the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, grew concerned that our hotel might have a guest that has been sleeping with humans for over 3,700 years — Cimex lectularius also known as bed bugs. Luckily, for us our hotel was spared these brown quarter-inch creatures the size of a flat pea, but others in the Big Apple and across the country haven’t been so lucky. Bed bugs don’t discriminate who they infest; in fact some of the largest infestations have been the Empire State Building, the United Nations, the Time Warner Center and even cool shops like Abercrombie & Fitch, Juicy Couture, Victoria’s Secret and Niketown (all on 5th Avenue in New York City).

Arriving in our Domicile
Our canine friends are well known for carrying ticks and fleas indoors, but they are not to blame for bed bug arrivals. Bed bugs are natural hitchhikers. Due to their tiny nature, they often escape detection after crawling into suitcases, boxes, shoes, and can also be found on a person’s clothing or belongings.

Strangers in the Night
Bed bugs are scurrying up the ladder of our national fears for good reasons – - they are parasitic nighttime feeders that feed exclusively on blood. Bedbugs are attracted to its “prey’s” body heat and carbon dioxide production and like any predator, it does have a preference for its meal source – humans, but don’t count out any other warm-bodied mammals sleeping in your bed.

These vampires of the insect world inject an anesthetic to mask their feedings and they scurry away when you turn on the light. The sleeper often remains undisturbed when bitten. Later, the injected substances cause the skin to become irritated and inflamed. The pruritic welts are typically discovered upon awakening.

Bedbugs hide during the day in bedding, mattresses, box springs, bed frames, baseboards, electrical outlets, and under carpet. You may, however, be able to smell them: their glands emit a sticky-sweet scent that lingers in a room that smells like almonds. When trying to determine if you truly have an infestation, it is recommended that you have a canine bed bug sniffing dog pay you a call.

Canine Scent Detection Ability
The canine sense of smell is legendary and has been used effectively over the years to detect a wide variety of things such as odorless gases (to humans), black-footed ferrets, brown tree snakes and even missing people. Since humans usually cannot detect bedbug occurrences in the day, evidence of a small infestation might not always be present to our eyes. Canines on the other hand rely on their olfactory senses versus their visual senses and can have a olfactory detection range from tens parts per billion to 500 parts per trillions which is 100 times greater than humans based on an Auburn University study. This is helpful in detecting bed bug eggs, which are the size of two grains of salt.

A number of scent detection companies have emerged offering canine scent detection of bed bugs. However, current scent detection offerings have limitations. If you are considering a scent detection company you should consider the following:

  • The frequency the dogs are trained.
    • Dogs that are not trained on a regular basis tend to have more false positives (this means that the dog alerts to the presence of bed bugs in situations where bed bugs are not present) than dogs that are trained on a daily basis.
  • What is the training of the handler?
    • A handler’s training is just as important as the canine’s. Handlers can often miss the cues the dogs gives on its behavior. If a dog is bored or disinterested, it can increase false positives. Also, trainers can inadvertently reward bad behavior. Remember, dogs want to impress the handlers.
  • How frequently do the dogs have false positive alerts?
  • How often (what percent of time) do dogs fail to find bed bugs?
  • Is the trainer and dog certified by a national organization?
    • Most reputable dogs have gone through at least 600+ hours of training and have been certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association

As a general rule, all dogs and handlers should have a quality training program in place and a strong set of data to support the training program. If you feel you might have a bedbug issue, make sure the company you are dealing with has the above items in place. An effective team will be able to confidently communicate and help you deal with these vampires of the insect world. For more information, you can visit the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.

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