Do we have bedbugs or fleas?
July 11, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Moved into a house 2 months ago. Got a dog. Getting bites. Can't find critters. Snowflakes inside.

My boyfriend and I moved into a (rental) house 2 months ago. We experienced mild bites, nothing serious. Then we got a dog. Though he has been de-flead, and we give him sentinel and bathe him regularly, we definitely noticed that he bites and scratches himself. We also noticed an uptick in bites on ourselves upon his arrival. My torso is covered with them, and they're red and inflamed (I'm allergic to bug bites). My boyfriend is getting bites behind his knees and on his inner thighs.

I'm bedbug-phobic, and frequently check our room, the mattress, crevices, etc for blood spots and fecal matter. Nothing. I did, once, have a flea jump up on me when I was sitting on the couch. So, we assumed this was fleas. But when we called a pest control place, they kept telling us we'd have more fleas jumping up on us, that this was likely bedbugs.

Here's the real kicker: we're at-will tenants. Meaning we have no lease, and our landlords have very little obligation to us, in return. We're poor grad students who can't afford a fleet of bedbug-checking beagles and a big pest treatment. But I'm going crazy with these bites.

What does this sound like to you, pest-knowers of MeFi? Bedbugs? Fleas? Scabies?

posted by Bluestocking_Puppet to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds more like fleas than bedbugs, but it would help if you could upload a photo of the bites. The bite pattern is different for fleas vs bedbugs.

There've been reports of fleas getting resistant to some anti-flea chemicals. You could try getting him Comfortis for a systemic anti-flea (they'll still bite him but then die so go away over time). Trifexis is Comfortis + heartworm meds.

Is your apartment carpeted? I'd expect more bites at the flea-jump height (like mid-calf) if they were in the flooring and jumped to bite you rather than on your torso.

Does the dog sleep with you in bed? He might bring them up with him to then bite you while you're asleep.

I saw a random flea or two jump on me when my dog had them but my house mostly didn't. We treated her and the cats systemically (Comfortis/Trifexis) and vacuumed a lot with a good vacuum (HEPA) and our problem went away. Vacuum both furniture and flooring, plus wash any blankets/pillows you can.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:12 AM on July 11, 2014

Response by poster: To clarify: we actually do give him Trifexis. Our floors are all hardwood. I'll try to get a photo up ASAP.
posted by Bluestocking_Puppet at 11:17 AM on July 11, 2014

Do you have any bird nests in or near your windows? I recently had something similar happen and it ended up that there was a nest in the kitchen window and the birds fledged and the bird mites that had been living the high life on the baby birds came into my house and started biting me and the dog. They left my husband and the cats alone, go figure. My husband got rid of the nest, cleaned the whole area, and then we started killing the remainder of the mites with Fantastik. I used a lint roller to roll them off of my skin (I know!!) and we washed and vacuumed everywhere. It's been a few weeks and it appears that they have died off.
posted by crankylex at 11:19 AM on July 11, 2014

You might buy yourself a couple of cheap glue traps (or make some, duct tape will do the trick) and see if you're catching any fleas or bedbugs.

Also, get a flea comb. One or two combs along his spine to the base of his tail will tell you whether your flea treatment is working.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:25 AM on July 11, 2014

Chiming in to point out that fleas and bed bugs aren't your only options. Our dog, who sleeps on the foot of the bed, is flea-free but we occasionally get bits from things that she tracks in, or that hop a ride on her while she's outside. Usually washing the sheets solves the problems, as does giving her a bath (but she prefers we try just washing the sheets first and hopes that solves it!).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:25 AM on July 11, 2014

Best answer: I read up a lot on this stuff a few years ago when NYC was in the midst of its bedbug epidemic and I was ultra-paranoid about getting them. If the place you're in was vacant for two months, and these are bed bugs, they could have retreated to some places you wouldn't likely look and be returning to those places after feeding. Bed bugs tend to bite near major arteries and the bites tend to be in a line or circle of twos or threes, because they move when a person shifts around during sleep and then they bite a different nearby spot. The bites are often large and very swollen with a kind of central mark where the insect's sucker entered the flesh. Bed bugs like to bite limbs, especially legs. Have you checked the bedbug registry website to see if your current residence is possibly listed there? You could also have a flashlight ready to check your bed during the night. Flea bites tend to be smaller and in clusters of several. We got rid of our dog's fleas with Frontline and that seems to be working still. Also, have you considered mosquitoes? Last summer I accidentally left a sliding screen cracked open and got bit by mosquitoes for a few days, but I stupidly thought it was something more far-fetched before I realized what it was. There are also lots of other possibilities for what could be biting you.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2014

My parents have an ongoing battle with mites on their pup. A quick google says there's some possibility of human overlap.

Otherwise, fleas are a good possibility. If you don't flea bomb (and I try to avoid it), there's that awful period where the last soldiers stop biting the pet and go for the non-treated human alternative. Continue vaccuuming and washing cushion covers and bedding in hot hot water. Repeat every week or two for six weeks, so you kill that second wave of stubborn eggs hatching.
posted by politikitty at 11:50 AM on July 11, 2014

One cheap thing you could try is a flea trap. Just put a big plate/bowl filled with water and some dish soap directly under a lamp (or place a candle in the middle of the dish). The light will attract fleas, as soon as they reach the water, they'll drown. Depending on how many fleas there are, you could catch dozens of fleas in one night this way.

If it is fleas, you'll have to vacuum and mop the floors really well for a few weeks to make sure all fleas - in all stages of life - are gone.

For my cats, I use a topical flee control treatment - Advantage - and it works really well. There is an equivalent for dogs.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:52 AM on July 11, 2014

Best answer: Bedbug secrets from my terrible 4 month bedbug ordeal:

-Put Climbups on the legs of your bed, and on sofa legs (if possible). (DIY options)

-Get a Bedbug Beacon trap to check for existing bedbugs. (DIY)
-Bed bug sniffing dogs. I had mixed results with these, but would still highly recommend it.

-Tape traps! Double sided carpet tape is amazing at catching bedbugs. While you're trying to detect bedbugs, you should put this in areas they may cross (the fabric stuff was slightly better in my experience). If they cross over it, they will get stuck. You could put a big rectangle of it on the floor around your bed, or put tape around your box-spring (check it daily for evidence). When I *had* bedbugs, and was trying to keep them isolated to one room only, I put this stuff on every door-frame (floor, ceiling, sides of the door-frame in a continuous loop) so there was no way in or out of that room. If you put down a line of green painters tape on the floor first, with the carpet tape over-top, you'll have a much easier time peeling it all off later.
posted by offrecord at 11:54 AM on July 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've had fleas in my house that are resistant to both triflexis and advantage. Revolution stopped them dead in their tracks. Capstar is also great for right now results, but it's not something that protects on a longer-term basis. And capstar is nice because you can combine it with other treatments.
posted by zug at 12:13 PM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bedbug bites are fairly distinctive, so I'd take a close look at your bites to get a feel for what you're dealing with. The bites from bedbugs tend to resemble 'tracks' (from marching in a line across you) or clusters and are usually (but not always) found on the upper portions of the body. Flea bites tend to be along the lower portions of the body (ie: legs) and their placement is erratic - wherever the flea can jump and nab a bite.
posted by stubbehtail at 4:08 PM on July 11, 2014

Bedbugs, contrary to what you might think, are actually not tiny and very visible when they are mature (ask me how I know...) If you don't see any, it's probably not bedbugs. Sounds like you have a mild flea infestation. Put down borax or diatomaceous earth all over your floors and rugs. Leave for 24 hours. The sweep and mop, or vacuum. Then see if you still have a problem (use one of the suggested flea traps to check). You might have to do this a couple times before they are all gone.

Also, fleas can become immune to the same flea treatment over and over, so it's best to switch between Advantage and Sentinel, or another type, each time you do it.
posted by ananci at 8:33 PM on July 11, 2014

Response by poster: Update: We got some diatomaceous earth and mattress covers, and covered up our bed. No bites this morning. But. We also laid out bedbug traps, with no results. Which leads me to believe this is fleas.

Just to clarify: those who point out that fleas can become immune to one treatment -- can you switch between, say, trifexis and sentinel from one month to another? Should we always switch up which flea preventative we use, each month? Asking because we have 6 mos. worth of Trifexis.
posted by Bluestocking_Puppet at 3:29 PM on July 12, 2014

If triflexis isn't working now, it probably isn't going to work later either.

I mean, you might get lucky and get infested with non-resistant fleas, but assuming your dog picked them up locally, it basically means the local fleas are likely to be resistant. That isn't likely to change. And if you get it wrong, you get to deal with either buying some Capstar or a month of itching before you can dose with something else.
posted by zug at 3:49 PM on July 12, 2014

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