Pets and Pests: A Look and Some Interesting Relationships
By Chris Williams on February 25, 2013.
Throughout history, mankind has had a close relationship with animals. Animals have played a large role in human life as food sources, working animals, and companions. Both inside and outside of our homes animals create conditions that may lead to pest activity. Some pests like fleas and ticks feed on the pets themselves. Pests like the Indian Meal Moth, carpet beetles sometimes infest pet food or pet fur/dander. Other pests such as house flies, roaches, rats, and mice can be associated with pet feces. During my career in the Pest Control Industry I have seen some very interesting cases involving pets and pests. In the next section I will try to describe some of these associations.
I once was called to a home where the children were given an ant colony. While the children were at school, the large colony moved all of the eggs and queen ant to a wall void near the bathroom. The pet ants had become the pest! After a week of ant activity, they had had enough and called a Pest Control Professional.
Birds are messy feeders, and constantly shed their feathers. Pantry pests including the Indian Meal Moth(IMM), Dermestid beetles, and grain beetles have been found inn and around bird cages, as well as in stored bird food products. Bird mites may also infest the cage or home if birds are not cared for properly. Mice and rats will also be attracted to spilled food, improperly stored food, and feathers as nesting material. At a residence in Hawaii, a rat killed a pet parrot when it ate the leg off. Yuck!
Cats are great pets but can be linked to several pest control issues. Flea infestations are commonly associated with cats, even indoor cats. Rapid reproduction allows fleas the upper hand when trying to cope with a quickly growing problem. Pest Control Professionals were very busy treating fleas in 2011. Cats that go outside can pick up fleas, or even ticks. Ticks cling to blades of grass and reach out for passing animals. After feeding, the tick drops off the host to either molt, or lay eggs. Imagine a tick on the bed (I have found them on beds). Outdoor cats will usually poop outside, and bury it. Flies may be attracted to feces, and be quite numerous. Inside I have seen some incredible House fly infestations. All litter boxes were filled and overflowing, soaked though. Millions of flies! I did find IMM feeding on a Wheat Kernel cat litter, totally infested….the cat had been gone for years. Lastly, Pantry pests, mice, or roaches will be attracted to and feed on cat food. Improperly stored dry food is easy to infest. Roaches, mice, and ants will also enjoy wet cat food left out or spilled on the floor, flies too!
Mans best friend, or mans pest friend I like to say. These free roaming flea catchers wander through tick laden meadows, scurry along deer trails, and rustle around rabbit holes chasing scents. The very things they smell, are infested! Even the most pampered pooches can contact fleas and ticks right in the back yard. Dog feces should not accumulate and should be disposed of properly. Flies love feces as an egg laying substrate, and won’t hesitate to land on your grill. Rats and mice will also enjoy and endless supply of fresh food. As dogs age, their digestive system becomes less efficient and more actual nutrients are deposited in their feces. I recently did a rat job involving dog feces, a problem easily managed with good sanitation procedures, including removal of dog feces. Dog food left accessible to pests like IMM/other pantry pests, mice, rats, and roaches will also be used as a highly valuable food source. Mice and rats will have more young when more food is available, so storage is important as well. Another potential issue is accumulated pet fir. Several common beetles including the carpet beetle will feed and lay eggs on accumulated pet fir. This can take place in cracks, couches, under rugs, etc. In some cases the beetles become pests of rugs, stored fabrics, and furs.
These lovable members of the weasel family, whose distinctive odor often belies their presence, are generally not problematic. I have found grain beetles in ferret treats, that had fallen into a duct. The beetle population was limited to that area but was quite concerning to the homeowner due to the sudden appearance of little reddish beetles. Feed material should always be inspected and stored in sealed containers. Spilled or uneaten food should be discarded properly.
Gerbils and Hamsters:
Like mice and rats, gerbils and hamsters are rodents. Considered by some to be great pets, gerbils and hamsters along with domestic mice and rats can have some pest related issues. Starting with the obvious pantry pest suspects, IMM was recently found inside a gerbil cage, food, and treats stored under the cage. This infestation spread to the kitchen culminating in a call regarding little worms all over the ceiling. The pantry was becoming colonized by the IMM, who had become established in the gerbil feed down in the basement. Stored food should be periodically inspected for signs of infestation. Rodent bedding is also a re-occurring theme with relation to flies. On one call I was greeted by overwhelmed homeowners, living with thousands of flies. Swarming around a seemingly normal, clean kitchen were house flies, Amity Ville Horror style house flies(a horror movie from the 70’s where the house becomes filled with flies). Investigation of the “worst” area, the boy’s room, revealed the source of the infestation: hamster bedding. Urine, feces, spilled water and decaying wood chips had built up in the cage, and maggots were visible along with pupal cases even on the surface of the bedding. Not pretty, but easily prevented. Just as an aside, the homeowner would not let me dispatch the flies. Another strange indecent involving hamsters also comes to mind. One of our technicians called in regarding small, mobile specs, that not only came out in large numbers when humans were present, but swarmed all over the TV set and light switches. As it turned our, the 5 hamsters had died due to bites and feeding from the Oriental Rat Mite, which can survive some 45-70 days off the host, actively seeking out warm blooded candidates for feeding. Very interesting. On that note, all rodents can harbor fleas, ticks, mites, and may feed bedbugs when caged. Escaped mice and rats have gone on to reproduce with wild populations, becoming pests themselves.
Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles:
Pet stores are increasingly coming up with new pets to sell from around the world. Exotic reptiles in all shapes and sizes are available to keep in the home. Most species have specific temperature and moisture requirements, usually tropical. Warm wet cages can be ideal places for fungus gnats, moth flies, midges, and mosquitoes to breed. Vegetarian species may ignore food items and attract fruit or house flies. Some reptiles prefer live food, like crickets, and beetle larvae. I have been called in to control escaped crickets after a reptile loving tenant moved out. I have also heard of escaped snakes vanishing for years then showing up unexpectedly. Mice and rats used as snake food have also escaped and caused trouble.
Surprisingly, spiders and scorpions are popular pets. Even venomous varieties are available in some locations or through illegal transport. Imagine baby Black Widow spiders loose in the neighbors’ apt. after an escape! Driven to spread out and hide, pets like this themselves sometimes become pests. Their food sources such as mealworms, crickets, and flies can also escape and become pests.
Good sanitation, common sense food storage, and adequate containment will go a long way in preventing many of the situations mentioned above. Should you seek more detailed information, an inspection, or an identification of a suspect pest, please contact a Pest Control Professional for advice and possible treatment.