Chagas Disease In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Assassin Bug and sick dog

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Chagas is a serious disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which makes its way to the bloodstream and spreads to the organs of the body. This is of particular concern when it affects the heart and brain. The most common way for chagas to spread to dogs is through unknowing ingestion of feces from so-called “kissing bugs,” which are also referred to as “assassin bugs.” Though chagas disease primarily appears in dogs in Central and South America, cases have been reported in several states in the U.S., including Texas and many others from the southeast to the southwest. Though chagas disease can affect humans, no cases of transmission from dog to human have been reported. Chagas disease can be fatal, and there is no real cure for the condition, though some treatment can help manage symptoms and complications. If you see the signs of chagas disease in your dog, consult your veterinarian so they can form a proper diagnosis and prescribe treatment to manage symptoms. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for chagas disease in dogs.

Symptoms Of Chagas Disease In Dogs

Tired dog on carpet. Sad beagle on floor. Dog lying on soft carpet after training. Beagle with sad opened eyes indoors. Beautiful animal background.

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Symptoms of chagas disease in dogs can either be acute, meaning they appear suddenly and severely, or they can be chronic, meaning they are mild at first and gradually worsen over a longer period of time. Some dog have an asymptomatic period, which can last for months to years, where they show no symptoms, although the parasite may still be doing internal damage to the organs, including degeneration and inflammation of the heart. Here are some of the symptoms you might see in dogs that suffer from chagas disease.

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Tachycardia
  • Arrhythmia
  • Anemia
  • Edema
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Sudden death

Causes Of Chagas Disease In Dogs

Rhoduius Prolixus feeding on blood. Chagas is an incurable disease transmitted by Triatominae bugs.

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The most common cause of chagas disease in dogs is unknowingly ingesting the contaminated feces from the kissing bug, a blood sucking insect, though there are other ways dogs can be exposed. Eating an infected kissing bug or any infected animal can cause infection. Although bites from the kissing bug don’t directly cause infection, kissing bugs may leave fecal matter in the bite wound and infect a dog. The parasite may also be passed on from a mother dog to her puppies, either through the umbilical cord before birth or through her milk after birth.

Treatments For Chagas Disease In Dogs

An unrecognized caucasian woman veterinarian comforting a dog patient with discomfort. The veterinarian is comforting the dog, a red standard poodle puppy, which is sick and unhappy. Photographed close-up in a animal pet clinic hospital examining room in a horizontal format.

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There is no direct treatment or vaccine for chagas disease in dogs, though treatment is available to relieve some of the symptoms and complications of the disease. Some drugs have shown limited promise for treating the acute stage of chagas disease, especially Benznidazole, though full suppression of the disease via drugs is not yet possible. Usually medication is given for the heart and lungs as needed, and animals are often quarantined to avoid passing the parasite to others, though there have been no documented cases of dogs passing chagas disease to humans.

The only somewhat effective means of preventing the disease include using insecticides to reduce the kissing bug population, turning off outside lights at night to avoid attracting insects, cleaning up insect feces with bleach, and keeping dogs inside at night.

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