Pet Health Hospital

“Kissing Bugs” and Chagas Disease in Dogs

Kissing BugsOver the past few weeks there has been a lot of discussion on the internet about American Trypanosomiasis Parasitic Infection that is brought on by the bite of a parasitic insect known as the “Kissing Bug.” While this disease is far more common in areas like South American, there have been cases of infection reported recently in roughly all of the states in the southern region of the United States. While this is getting widespread attention, it is worth noting that this parasitic infection has actually only been noticed in about 25 human cases since the fifties, and there is speculation that all of those cases were actually a result of travel outside of the US. The bites from the “kissing bug” draw blood and also transfer the parasites into the hosts bloodstream, causing a variety of problems including potential death. While this is certainly news, far less discussion is happening regarding that this type of infection is far more common in dogs in the US. The condition is called Chagas disease, and it is an illness caused by the zoonotic protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, contracted through a variety of manners including a blood transfusion. Once the parasite multiplies and eventually ruptures out into the blood circulation, it spreads to various organs including the brain and heart. Chagas disease is commonly associated with sudden inflammation of the heart muscle. Chagas disease is typically in in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia, California, New Mexico, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland. Recently there have been cases reported in nearly every state in the southern half of the US. If you find a suspected kissing bug in your home or around your dog’s area, it is important not to kill the insect by squishing it. Instead, trap it in a container while being careful not to be bitten by it, as it is very important for it to be accurately identified by a veterinarian in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of Chagas In Dogs

There are two forms of Chagas disease in dogs: acute and chronic. One of the main problems with detection and treatment is a long asymptomatic period (where no symptoms develop), which can last years in some cases. There is a progressive multiplication of the parasite, eventually leading to the degeneration and inflammation of the heart. This heart issue can eventually cause heart failure and death.

Acute Chagas (dogs younger than 2 most typically)
Diarrhea
Depression
Lethargy
Exercise intolerance
Difficulty walking
Seizures
Lymph nodes swelling
Increased heart rate
Congestive heart failure

Chronic Chagas (older dogs typically)
Weakness
Fainting
Exercise intolerance
Increased heart rate

Causes

Chagas may occur when an insect, such as a kissing bug (Triatominae), bites the dog on the skin or lips and leaves infected feces in the wound. It can also occur when a dog eats feces from an infected animal like an opossum, raccoon, and armadillo.

Diagnosis

If you notice symptoms of any kind, immediately visit a veterinarian and ask for an examination, as well as an order of a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis, serology and an electrolyte panel — essentially the typical procedure for a suspected parasitic infections.

X-Rays can potentially show Chagas issues, and an echocardiogram may show chamber or wall abnormalities. These types of abnormalities are often seen in sudden or chronic forms of the disease.

Treatment

Typically, supportive treatment of heart complications (e.g., heart arrythmias) is the main way to treat Chagas, as there is no known cure. Although several drugs have shown some promise, there is no valid associated treatment that reverses the symptoms.

Living and Management

Unfortunately the veterinarian may suggest euthanization as a means of preventing suffering due to the grave prognosis associated with chronic Chagas. Dogs diagnosed with acute Chagas are generally listed as “guarded” meaning that there is a poor prognosis and a general expectation of failure over time.