Chagas is a serious disease caused by a parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi or “T. cruzi.” Though chagas afflicts both humans and animals, dogs are especially susceptible to infection.
The t-cruzi parasite is transmitted by the bite and feces of “kissing bugs.” Also known as chinches or cone-nose bugs, they feed on blood during the night. The nickname “kissing bugs” comes from their preference to bite humans around the mouth or eyes. These bugs have migrated into Texas and other border states from Mexico, Central America and South America.
Adult kissing bugs are about ¾ to1¼ inches long, and most species have a very characteristic striped band with orange or red markings around the edge of the body.
According to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, chagas symptoms can be acute or chronic. Among the acute symptoms (mostly in younger dogs – under two years old) are lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes and seizures, as well as an increased heart rate. Chronic symptoms may include fatigue and weakness, fainting, and an elevated heart rate.
Some dogs may not show any symptoms of chagas. However, if present, the unnoticed parasitic infection may cause significant inflammation and heart damage over months or years. A heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy can develop and result in congestive heart failure. Sometimes, infected dogs may die suddenly without ever developing symptoms of heart disease.
A blood test for chagas is available, and a positive result indicates that the dog has been exposed. Unfortunately, no vaccines yet are available to prevent chagas and no medications have been found to treat chagas itself effectively, but researchers are working to develop new treatment approaches.
Make an appointment with us at Block House Creek if your cuddly canine shows any symptoms, especially if you think it came into contact with a kissing bug or an infected animal like a rat or mouse. In addition to a blood test, our veterinarians can provide medication to relieve symptoms, help dogs feel better and extend their life.
For now, the only real prevention is avoidance. The best thing you can do for your precious pup is prevent it from eating bugs or potentially infected animals, and keep it indoors after dark.
If you have any questions or concerns about possible chagas symptoms, speak with one of our veterinarians.