Have you ever heard of the kissing bug taking the lives of many North Americans and dogs?
Chagas disease in dogs has become perhaps the most talked about vector-borne disease that affects both animals and humans. Commonly known as the “Kissing disease”, this ailment occurs as a result of bites transmitted from the triatomine bugs. Conversely, the condition is zoonotic and can spread from species to species.
So, in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Chagas disease—and how it can affect you and your dog!
What is Chagas Disease?
Also known as American trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease is a zoonotic disease that’s caused by a protozoan parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. North Americans may have probably heard of the infamous horror stories of the”Kissing bug” or “Assassin bug”. This is because these insects—also known as triatomine insects are the vectors (carriers) of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.
How Does Chagas Disease in Dogs Spread?
There are a few ways your canine friend can become infected with American trypanosomiasis. Firstly, they can acquire the parasite through bites from an infected Assassin bug. Secondly, a dog who consumes the feces of an infected Kissing bug will get the parasite as well.
Lastly, dogs can also obtain the disease via blood-to-blood contact. For example, should a female dog acquire Chagas disease—then, her puppies are going to contract the parasite as a result of placental spread.
Additionally, humans can contract Chagas infections via blood transfusions while at hospitals.
Chagas Disease in Dogs — Geographic Distribution
According to the World Health Organization, as of 2009, the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi is most prevalent in parts of Latin America. However, the disease is also considered quite prevalent in parts of the United States (Texas-mexico border), Canada, South America, and Western Pacific countries.
Kissing Bug Bite Mark—The Kissing Bug
The insect known as the kissing bug has gotten its iconic nickname from the fact that these bugs tend to bite human beings around their lips and face. The other common nickname—The Assassin bug, comes from the fact that the disease is actually incurable, and is known to be fatal to humans and pets.
Who’s At Risk of Acquiring Chagas Disease in Dogs?
According to a study published in 2017, its analyzed that working dogs are at a higher risk of developing Chagas disease. However, any outdoor that within the Texas-Mexico region may be at risk of developing the disease since this is where Chagas may be most prevalent.
However, it is important to bear in mind that any animal that has a developing immune system (for example puppies and kittens) are at a higher risk of contracting Chagas disease.
Additionally, there is a strong correlation suggesting that pet owners are more likely to contract the parasites from their infected pets.
Is The Assassin Bug Deadly To Humans?
Absolutely! Chagas disease is endemic in 21 countries across Latin America. It’s thought that 70 million people are at risk of contracting the disease, while approximately 12,000 people may die from the disease.
Chagas Disease—Prevalency in Dogs and Humans!
Unfortunately, there are not many studies out there indicating how prevalent the disease may be to our dogs. Nevertheless, a study published in 2017 indicated the following:
- Chagas disease affects more than 180 mammals, this includes wild animals such as the skunk, opossums, banded armadillos, raccoons, rodents, dogs, and humans.
- Chagas disease may be more common in wild animals like skunks. The prevalence of the disease is actually quite low in dogs.
- In humans, Chagas disease has a high morbidity and mortality rate. It’s estimated that of the 6 to 7 million people infected with Chagas, approximately 21,000 deaths will occur each year.
Chagas Disease Symptoms
Based on experimental research, dogs infected with Chagas disease can experience a range of severe symptoms. Once a dog is infected with the disease, they are likely to experience clinical signs such as:
- Palpebral edema
- Enlarged liver or spleen
It’s important to remember that Chagas disease is an emerging infectious disease. So, clinical symptoms in dogs are still emerging. However, veterinarians have found out that infected dogs, less than six months of age, may experience clinical signs such as pale gums, anorexia, diarrhea, and sudden death.
In contrast, older dogs who may be infected by Chagas, are often asymptomatic for long periods. However, once symptoms emerge, veterinarians will notice that older dogs are more at risk of developing heart diseases such as congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart murmurs. In addition, geriatric dogs may also develop problems with their nervous and respiratory system.
Chagas Disease Symptoms in Humans
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of Chagas disease in humans can be broken down into an acute phase or chronic phase.
During the acute phase of Chagas disease, people may experience mild flu-like symptoms which can include fevers, fatigue, nausea, and swollen lymph nodes.
On the other hand, symptoms of chronic Chagas disease in humans can be a lot more severe. Surprisingly, the chronic phase of Chagas disease is more likely to appear 10 to 30 years after the first infection.
Symptoms of chronic phase Chagas include:
- heart failure
- Cardiac arrest
- difficulty swallowing
- Constipation as a result of an enlarged colon.
Chagas Disease in Dogs — How Veterinarians May Diagnose Your Pooch!
Chagas disease may sometimes be a little difficult to diagnose as dogs may either be asymptomatic, or the clinical signs may be indicative of another ailment. However, the most common methodology used to form a differential diagnosis will involve the following steps:
- First, your veterinarian will take down a full history of your dog’s clinical signs, living conditions, and any recent travel.
- Your veterinarian will then consider the prevalence of the disease in the region you may be living in.
- Your veterinarian will then perform a full physical examination. During this time, your vet will examine your dog for signs of a cough, murmurs, changes in breathing, and overall body condition.
- Your veterinarian may also choose to perform important tests in order to narrow down the differential diagnosis list.
Common tests your vet may choose to implement include:
- Electrocardiography(ECG) and ultrasounds in order to evaluate the condition and functioning of the heart.
- A real time PCR or ELISA test may be done in order to diagnose chronic Chagas disease
- Immunochromatographic test
- Serology and blood smears may be performed, this may involve the use of a radioimmunoprecipitation assay.
Chagas Disease Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Chagas disease in dogs. Dogs infected with this parasite will have to undergo vigorous therapy which will involve the use of anti-parasitic drugs such as Benznidazole and nifurtimox. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the therapeutic treatment will only slow down the progression of the disease, should it be caught soon.
Regrettably, dogs who have developed heart disease and heart failure as a result of Chagas, will eventually get worse over time.
Chagas Disease Prevention: How To Get Rid of Kissing Bugs
There are currently only two methods of prevention— disinfection and avoid getting bitten! According to the World Health Organization, owners should:
- Make use of residual insecticides by spraying their homes
- Make sure to clean and disinfect their dog house on a regular basis
- Keep your dog’s indoors in order to avoid them from interacting with wild animals or feces from other animals.
- Avoid keeping your dog in kennels
- Consider testing any pregnant dog for the disease
A Modern Day Assassin That Can Infect You and Your Pet
Chagas disease is truly a nightmare for both veterinarians and human physicians, this is because there is absolutely no known cure for the condition—nor, is there any vaccine available for its prevention.
Make sure you take all the necessary precautions and most importantly, limit your dog’s exposure to the assassin bug.
Do you have questions about Chagas disease in dogs? Let us know in the comments below