Bedbug-sniffing dogs can detect them in under 10 seconds

News and comment: you may have heard about the alleged surge in bedbug infestations in the UK ostensibly imported from France but I don’t think this is correct because my research indicates that there has been a steady increase in bedbug infestations in the UK over years. Rentokil tells us that there was a 65% increase in infestations between April and June of this year compared to the same time last year.

Bedbug sniffing dogs are in demand
Bedbug sniffing dogs are in demand. Image: MikeB

In fact, The Sunday Times reports that there has been a steady increase in bedbug numbers since the early noughties which is around 20 years ago. The Covid pandemic caused a slight dip in the number of infestations. Increased travel after the pandemic resulted in a gradual rise in bedbug numbers.

The rising numbers might be due also to an increased resistance to insecticides and perhaps the popularity of second-hand furniture. Some pest control companies are saying that they have been inundated with calls to deal with them.

For hotels, negative reviews about bedbugs are going to be hugely damaging to their businesses. They need to take rigorous precautions against this parasitic insect.

As it is very time consuming to search a home or a hotel for bedbugs, bed bug hunting dogs such as Benji have become incredibly valuable. Benji is a cross between a cocker and a springer spaniel. He is one of many dogs trained to sniff out bedbugs and he can often can find them in about 10 seconds. His reward is a yellow and blue ball to play with.

When Benji has found the bedbugs, he sits down and nudges his nose into the mattress where the bedbugs are located. He thumps his tail against the carpet excitedly to tell his owner, Brian Leith.

Nowadays, there are training schools for bedbug detecting dogs. Their handlers can qualify for accreditations through the Bedbug Foundation and the National Association of Security Dog Users.

Leith, 60, who runs BDL Canine Services in South Lanarkshire said: “It could take someone in pest control 20 minutes to find the bedbugs, if they can find them. To search the whole floor of a hotel is very time-consuming for humans. My boy can sometimes find them in less than 10 seconds.”

Hotel sometimes use sniffer dogs themselves every three months to detect these nasty insects as quickly as possible and take preventative measures. Apparently, Tripadvisor shows customers writing reviews for central London hotel sightings of bedbugs.

Bedbugs are around 6 mm long and brown. When they are filled with the blood that they’ve sucked from their human hosts, they are about the size of an apple pip.

Brian Leith and his dog Benji visit up to 5 properties of various kinds including homes and businesses each day in Scotland and in the north of England. He checks out hotels, adventure parks and care homes. Other operators check out cruise ships and aeroplanes.

The charge can vary between £150 and up to £800 in some cases.

It appears that this current scare about bedbugs started off in sightings in Parisian hotels. There were reports on social media. There were then concerns about bedbugs travelling to the UK with sightings on London buses and on the underground. Steps were taken by Transport for London which is monitoring the situation but they say that there are currently no reports of bedbugs on the underground.

Benji has been detecting bedbugs since he was a puppy. Leith is a former warrant officer and he qualified as a dog handler with the RAF. He plans to train his three-month-old yellow Labrador, Molly, to do the same job when she is an adult.

Bedbugs are a remarkable parasite in that they can hide for up to 12 months without feeding on blood. They re-emerge when they detect humans through exhaled carbon dioxide, body heat and exposed skin. They can hide in mattresses, skirting boards and bed boards and even plug sockets during the daytime and they come out at night to feed on their host. They leave faeces on the bed which are dark brown spots.

As expected, when bitten by a bedbug you are left with an itchy spot but they don’t normally cause genuine health problems.

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