Chagas Disease, A Deadly Threat to Texas Dogs

Overview of Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is a very serious deadly and increasingly common disease in dogs in Texas. Chagas disease is caused by an infection by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The infection is transmitted to dogs, people, and other mammals by the kissing bug. Kissing bugs are nocturnal, blood-feeding insects that are members of the Reduviidae family. Dogs usually catch Chagas disease by eating the kissing bug or by being bitten by the kissing bug. Chagas disease causes serious heart disease and death in dogs.

Kissing Bugs

Kissing bugs are found all throughout South America and Central America however they are becoming increasingly common in the United States. They have been found in many states with Texas being one of the most seriously affected states. Kissing bugs carry the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi in their digestive tract. Infection with Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas disease in dogs and other mammals. Dogs can become infected either by ingesting the kissing bug or by being bitten by the kissing bug.

Symptoms of Chagas Disease in Dogs

Two types of Chagas disease exist in dogs, the acute form and the chronic form. The parasite often infects the heart muscle in dogs which leads to arrhythmias, heart disease, and death.

Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Weakness, lethargy, depression, exercise intolerance
  • Increased heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Bloated belly, fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Coughing
  • Seizures, neurologic abnormalities
  • Diarrhea, poor appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sudden death

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Chagas disease in dogs requires a history of symptoms, a thorough physical exam, laboratory testing including bloodwork, X-rays, and ultrasound. There is a blood test that can detect an infection with Chagas disease in dogs. Unfortunately dogs infected with Chagas disease have a poor prognosis for survival. There is currently no approved effective cure for dogs with Chagas disease however there is a lot of research being done on this. Humans can also become infected with Chagas disease from kissing bugs.

Preventing Chagas Disease

Preventing exposure to kissing bugs is the best way to prevent Chagas disease in dogs. This can be a challenge in areas where kissing bugs are common. The insects can live in cracks and crevices of wood and rocks. They are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide emissions coming from mammals and are most active at night. They are also attracted to light. Certain insecticides can be effective against kissing bugs however it is important to make sure the insecticide is also safe to be used around your pets.

Additional information about Chagas disease can be found here through Texas A&M University.

Please call us at Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital for an appointment if you are concerned about Chagas disease in your dog, 830-438-7800, www.springbranchvet.com info@springbranchvet.com.

Megan Hughes, DVM
Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital