With a name like “the kissing bug,” you would think that this tiny insect would be on par with some of our favorite creepy crawlies, butterflies, and caterpillars. Yet, “the kissing bug” has a more sinister name attached to it, one that would have you and your loved ones steering clear of the kissing booth. Also known as “the assassin bug” this parasite spreads a sickness called Chagas Disease which can affect not only you and your family but also your pets.
Never heard of Chagas Disease? You’re not alone. Chagas Disease is common in South and Central America, and as global warming heats up our planet, the range of Chagas disease is spreading. It can now be found in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia.
Check out this video of Kiska, a dog living in North Texas who has been infected with the disease yet continues to live a full life with the short time she has left.
An estimated 300,000 people are infected by Chagas Disease in the United States and most are due to infections acquired outside of the USA. Dogs are particularly vulnerable to “the kissing bug’s” bites, with 8.8% infected with Chagas Disease in the United States, and 17%-21% in Mexico
There are a few ways in which a dog can become infected by Chagas Disease, the most common being contact with the feces of an infected bug. This happens when a small amount of fecal matter enters the body, through the bug bite. It can also be transmitted through ingestion of an infected bug or passed from a mother to her offspring.
Once the parasite enters the dog’s body, they multiply and eventually rupture the infected cells. This is why Chagas Disease is often associated with heart disease in dogs. Sadly, in many cases, the disease isn’t detected until it reaches its late stages, and the symptoms increase in severity.
Common Symptoms in Dogs
There are two phases of Chagas Disease, acute, and chronic. The acute phase, or beginning stage, may last a few weeks or months. Following the acute phase, infected dogs will enter a chronic phase. If untreated, Chagas Disease will remain in the body for the entire lifetime.
Symptoms of Acute Phase:
- Disease of the lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver
- Enlarged spleen
- Abnormal heart rhythm
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Symptoms of Chronic Phase:
- Congestive heart failure
- Enlarged heart
- Abnormal heart rhythm
If you believe that your pet may have contracted Chagas Disease, it is important that you go to the veterinarian immediately to seek treatment. The sooner you get your dog treated, the better!
In endemic areas of Central and South America improved housing and spraying insecticide inside housing greatly decreased the spread of Chagas Disease. Early detection of new cases will help to reduce the burden of disease. Make a note to regularly check your pet for bug bites, particularly when it has been outside in the long grass or in less-populated areas.
Whether you live in the South or not, bug bites are something to be aware of when it comes to the safety of your pets. Bug bites can cause discomfort and pain for your dog, and also spread sickness and disease. Being able to identify a bug bite and know how to treat it is essential for all pet owners.
The Other Common Bug Bites Your Dog Will Encounter (let’s hope not)
Fleas are tiny insects that feed on the blood of their hosts. There are over 2,200 species of fleas, so chances are your dog will encounter them at some point in its life. Fleas will make a home on the skin of your pet and feast on the blood, causing itching, hair loss, scabs, and irritated skin. Not only will these tiny bugs drive your dog crazy with scratching, but they will also make a home in your carpet, on your bed, and in between the cracks of your hardwood floors.
In order to remove the fleas from your dog and house, talk to your vet about medication that you can administer, and set up a plan in order to rid your house of the little pests. Preventative medication can be administered in the spring and summer months, or year round in warmer climates, when fleas are more likely to spread.
Ticks are similar to fleas in that they feed on the blood of their host. A tick will lie in wait for a host and will be drawn to it by detecting its breath, body odor, heat source, moisture, and vibrations. Ticks can’t fly or jump, and will often wait in the long grass for their victim. After finding a host, a tick will attach itself to the skin and slowly suck the blood for a number of days, before dropping off and preparing for its next stage of life. In this way, a tick can spread diseases to multiple animals.
Prescription tick medication is available at your vet clinic and should be administered throughout the spring and summer months, or year round in warmer climates.
Mites and Mange
Mites are tiny eight-legged creatures that feed on organic matter, such as animal dander. Mange is the infestation of your dog’s skin by these mites. An infestation usually results in hair loss and extreme itching. There are two types of mange mites that can affect your dog, sarcoptic mange which is able to transmit from dog to owner, and demodectic mange which rarely spreads to other dogs and humans. In both cases, your dog will experience intense itchiness, which can cause painful lesions caused by self-inflicted scratching. The treatment for mite infestations is typically an anti-parasitic wash, which can be retrieved from a vet clinic.
With the vast amount of insects on this planet, you and your pets are bound to encounter many throughout your lifetime. Regardless of where you’re located, the best course of action in order to keep your family safe is to be prepared. If you are diligent in checking your pet for bites, study the dangers in your area, and seek help from the vet if you notice anything abnormal, you’ll be able to keep your pet pest-free.
 Pet MD Associates. Chagas Disease in Dogs. Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_chagas_disease
 Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD. (January 19, 2017). Chagas Disease in Dogs: Is It Transmissable to Humans? Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from http://www.medicinenet.com/chagas_disease_in_dogs/views.htm
 Global Health – Division of Parasitic Diseases. (November 2, 2010). Parasites – American Trypanosomiasis (also known as Chagas Disease). Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/chagas/disease.html
 Research Team at Texas A&M. Chagas Disease in Texas. Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from https://kissingbug.tamu.edu/files/canine-chagas-disease-2.pdf
 Anna Burke. (November 9, 2016). American Kennel Club. Retrived on September 11, 2017 from http://www.akc.org/content/health/articles/flea-bites-on-dogs/
 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectuous Diseases, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. (April 20, 2017). Ticks. Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html
 Marc Abraham. The Kennel Club Limited. Retrieved on September 11, 2017 from https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health/for-owners/mange-and-mites/
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