Chagas Disease in Dogs (2018)
Posted April 05, 2018
Whether your dog stays outside for hours at a time or is
primarily an inside dog, all dogs are at risk for Chagas disease, a
potentially fatal disease that affects the heart and other organ
Chagas disease is caused by the protozoan parasite
Trypanosoma cruzi, which is spread to dogs through insects
in the Reduviidae family, also commonly known as cone-nose or
“Kissing bugs are blood-sucking insects that often hang out in
or around places where sources of blood are readily available, such
as dog kennels, woodrat nests, and, unfortunately, sometimes in
human dwellings,” said Dr. Sarah Hamer, an associate professor at
the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. “The parasite is transmitted to dogs when they are
exposed to the feces of the bug or when they eat the
bugs. About 60 percent of kissing bugs across Texas are
infected with the parasite.
“Many dogs can be infected with the Chagas parasite and show no
signs of disease, while others may develop life-threatening heart
complications,” Hamer added.
Chagas symptoms can appear within weeks of infection (acute) or
months to years later (chronic). Typically, dogs that are younger
than 2 years old are more likely to develop acute disease, with
possible symptoms of diarrhea, lethargy, seizures, swollen lymph
nodes, fluid retention, and heart failure. Symptoms that occur
during chronic disease are those of congestive heart failure,
including lethargy, fainting, increased heart rate or abnormal
heart rhythm, and fluid buildup in the abdomen or lungs.
Although there is no vaccine or veterinary treatment for Chagas
disease, pets can be protected through insect control.
By reducing the amount of outdoor lighting at night, kissing
bugs may be less attracted to an area. If you keep your dog in a
kennel outside at night, consider installing a protective screen on
the kennel. In addition, try to keep your backyard free of wood
piles and other brushy areas, because these areas can serve as a
breeding ground for infected insects. Hamer added that licensed
pest control operators can help recommend a pest control plan to
combat the bugs.
To better protect humans and animals from Chagas, Hamer and a
team of researchers have been coordinating a special project since
“We run a 'Kissing Bug Citizen Science' program to engage the
public in Chagas research and provide resources for people to
better protect themselves and their pets,” Hamer said. “Our program
accepts kissing bugs encountered by the public across the southern
United States. Submitters provide important data, including the
location, time, and behavior of the bug when it was
encountered. Each bug provides a wealth of information for our
research—we’ve received over 4,000 kissing bugs since the start of
Hamer added that her research helps to characterize the natural
cycle of Chagas transmission and determine risk factors for human
and animal exposure.
For more information on Hamer’s project, please click here.
A kissing bug app is also available on iTunes and Google Play.
Through the website and apps, Hamer said the public can submit
photos of bugs if they are unsure if they are kissing bugs.
With no vaccine or treatment available, prevention is key in
protecting your pet from Chagas. Fortunately, Hamer and her team
are working to learn more about Chagas and how to better protect
you and your pets.
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Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be
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