Pet Talk: Chagas Disease in Dogs

By the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

COLLEGE STATION, April 9, 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 systems.

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.

“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.


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