At a dog show this past weekend I had a conversation with someone whose dog had been diagnosed with and treated for Chagas disease. This is a zoonotic parasite which means that it can be shared with humans and since I live closely with my dogs any zoonotic disease, such as giardia, Lyme Disease, West Nile virus, rabies and chagas, always catches my attention. This parasite is becoming an increasing problem in Texas, where I live, and the south in general. Texas A & M is reporting that more and more vets are testing for it. A Houston Chronicle article cites an A & M Professor as saying that Texas is increasingly a hot spot.
One of the ways that a dog can acquire this parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) is through a bite from Triatominae, otherwise known as the Kissing Bug ,which makes this insect sound far sweeter than it is. They are called this because they will feed on humans , as well as dogs and other mammals, at night and are attracted to the mouth area, apparently because of the exhaled carbon dioxide. Upon waking, a victim of this “kiss” will likely scratch the bite. This allows the infected feces of the insect to enter the wound, and thus the bloodstream.
It looks much like a squash bug. I prefer calling it the Eastern Bloodsucking Conenose which makes it sound as villainous as it is. It is part of a group of bugs called Assassin Bugs. and there are seven species found in Texas.
The parasite can also be acquired by your dog when he eats feces from an infected wild animal such as raccoons, when a kissing bug bites him, or in utero. The disease can be chronic or acute and so may go unnoticed. Sudden heart disease may be an indication of chagas. Although it can effect other organs, the heart muscle is frequently affected and symptoms can range from arrhythmias, congestive heart failure and exercise intolerance.
There are some studies that indicate a vaccine may protect a dog but taking steps to prevent the insect from access to your sleeping dog may help as well. Check your dogs bedding frequently at night and wash his bedding often. If your dog sleeps outside consider installing screening around his sleeping area.