Hundreds of dogs have died from a rare parasitic disease known as Chagas and over 300,000 Americans are currently infected. In Texas alone, roughly 400 dogs have died from the disease, and that is just the number of cases that have been diagnosed or reported.
What is Chagas? Chagas disease is caused by a parasite known as Trypanosoma Cruzi. The parasite is carried by the Triatomine Bug or “Kissing Bug”. The parasite is spread by the feces of the bugs. The Triatomine Bug feeds on blood usually around the eyes and mouth of a person or pet while they are sleeping.
Transmission occurs when fecal material gets rubbed into the bite wound or into a mucous membrane (for example, the eye or mouth), and the parasite enters the body.
Aside from being bitten, dogs also can contract the disease by eating the bugs, or from ingesting the feces of infected animals (such as raccoons, armadillos, possums).
How will you know if your dog has it? Chagas disease is known as the “silent killer” because people and pets who have it don’t know they have the disease until its later stages, after it attacks the heart muscles and eventually causes heart failure, by which stage it is too late for treatment.
Chagas may be asymptomatic (eg there are no initial symptoms) in early stages. However, one of the most serious symptoms is congestive heart failure, which can lead to death.
As you will learn in the video below, a dog named Kiska nearly died after being bitten by a kissing bug in Texas. She now lives with a pacemaker since there is no cure in the later stages.
If symptoms do appear, veterinarians often initially misdiagnose the disease because the symptoms resemble many other diseases. Other symptoms of Chagas may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen abdomen
- Weakness and fatigue
- Lack of coordination
- Exercise intolerance
- Jerking movements or seizures
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Congestive heart failure
One piece of good news is that there are tests for Chagas disease, and if detected early there’s a good chance of successful treatment.
Another good thing is that not all triatomine bugs are infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease and the likelihood of getting the disease in the United States is low, even if the bug is infected.
So where is Chagas found? It’s prevalent in South America and Mexico. But in recent years, health officials are starting to see more cases in the southern United States, typically in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia, according to the CDC.
So what can you do to ensure your pet doesn’t catch Chagas? However, our pets are more at risk if they spend time outdoors.
Outdoor areas the bugs prefer include:
- Beneath porches
- Between rocky structures
- Under cement
- In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
- In rodent nests or animal burrows
- In outdoor dog houses or kennels
- In chicken coops or houses
- In cracks and holes of substandard houses
If you find the insects always avoid directly handling it. Make sure to protect your hands with a plastic bag and wash your hands afterwards.
For areas at higher risk, it is recommended to:
- Keep your dogs inside at night since kissing bugs are nocturnal.
- Elevate any outdoor dog houses.
- Eliminate excess brush and shrubbery in the yard.
- Remove wood, brush, and rock piles, rodent nests near your house.
- If possible, make sure yard lights are not close to your house (light can attract the bugs)
- Seal holes and cracks leading to attics, crawl spaces, storage spaces
- Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
Maintaining your home and garden, and keeping your your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean will also go far in keeping the bugs away.
Please share this important information with your loved ones and help keep your dogs safe from Chagas!