Is Canada vulnerable to the bed bug epidemic?(Bebeto Matthews,File.AP Photo)

In this Jan. 25, 2008, photo, Carl Massicott, with Advanced K9 Detectives, leads his beagle dog Radar on a demonstration of how they sniff for bed bugs, during a visit to New York.

Late at night inside a high-end Fifth Avenue department store, something stirs.

Or is it sniffs?

Roaming the aisles while the rest of New York sleeps, that creature is a critter-sniffing beagle hired by Bergdorf Goodman. The company isn't about to fall prey to the fate recently levied upon other Big Apple retailers.

The problem is bed bugs, and unless you've spent the last three months sleeping under a mattress the insects are famous for invading, you know they've become a big problem for big business.

* Gallery: Hit by bed bugs: worst cases

Following a citywide, summer-long swarm of bed bugs that have invaded and temporarily shuttered NYC retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria's Secret and Niketown, Bergdorf Goodman has been forced to get creative with its preventative measures. On the advice of pest experts, the luxury outfitter brought in a dog trained to detect the insects, which it will do during the night while the store's doors are sealed.

Sound far-fetched? It's not, and when you consider the prospective losses a business might face if it has to close up shop for a few days, it's surprising more companies haven't taken to beagle-sniffing tactics before.

Indeed, while New York is still recovering from its bed bug invasion — which now been responsible for the temporary closings of triage rooms, movie theatres and college dorms, as well — the world has noticed.

The blood-sucking pests have become such a threat for modern retailers that not only did a Chicago suburb host the world's first Bed Bug Summit on Sept. 21st and 22nd, but 400 people attended the sold-out conference. Two hundred more were turned away at the door.

Perhaps that's not surprising, since an estimated 40 per cent of bed bug problems now occur in commercial spaces. And while U.S. businesses have been hit this year, Canadian companies haven't. Yet.

"The prevalence of bed bugs in Canada is just as high as it is in cities like New York," says Brett Johnston, the general manager of B.C.-based Canadian Pest Control, Ltd. "All that needs to happen is somebody seeing one [in a store] and saying, 'Oh, my God,' and we've got a bad situation."

Johnston warns the danger to Canuck retailers is very real, if for no other reason than the bed bug is a resilient pest. He calls them "spectacularly good hitchhikers," suggesting they can latch onto someone's bag or purse, ride on into a commercial space and nestle happily into their warm, new home.

While inside a store, Johnston says, bed bugs like to breed, and can do so without detection inside of one month. If the eggs, which are often laid in small crannies and underneath carpets, aren't found in time, you might have a full-blown infestation on your hands.