Chagas Disease in Dogs

[[Image:|right|400px|S]]The parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, is carried by Triatomine bugs and causes Chagas Disease. The triatoma bug is a varied species, all sharing similar traits. Triatomas are usually nocturnal and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds and reptiles.

Triatoma bugs have many names, reduviid bugs, kissing bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs and blood suckers. They make themselves at home in many places such as indoors in cracks and holes, around beds and night stands, near mattresses, near pet sleeping or resting areas and where there is a rodent infestation; outdoors beneath porches, under cement, rock, wood and brush piles, under the bark of trees, in rodent nests, animal burrows, dog houses and kennels, in chicken coops.

Triatoma bugs can be found in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. In parts of Latin America the triatoma have become a serious health problem, causing Chagas Disease.

To keep triatoma bugs out of the house, seal all cracks and holes around windows, walls, roofs, doors, in and out of the house. Repair screens. Keep the area around the house clear of bushes, wood and rocks. If possible, keep outdoor lights away from the house so as not to attract bugs. If your pets are outdoors, keep them in at night. Keep all areas clean and check regularly for the presence of bugs.

The use of synthetic pyrethroid sprays have had success in killing the bugs. Spraying areas with long-lasting insecticides appear to work too. However many of these sprays can be toxic to pets and humans as well, so great care should be taken with their use.

Transmission of Chagas Disease is through the bug’s fecal matter when it defecates while feeding on a mammal’s blood. The fecal matter carries the parasite and can enter the wound. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the bite of the triatoma bug and should seek medical help. Not all triatoma bugs carry the parasite that causes Chagas Disease. If you suspect you have found a triatoma, don’t squash it. Try catching it and placing it in a container of alcohol. Find out where you can take it to be examined.

Dogs can become infected by eating the bugs that carry the parasite or by eating infected prey. Symptoms include fever, inappetance, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen. Dogs may not show any symptoms for years. However if the infection is chronic, a dog can develop dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease that can cause congestive heart failure. Sudden death can occur in dogs even before symptoms appear.

At present there is no vaccine against Chagas Disease. Medications are only effective in treating the heart problems and supporting liver function. While Chagas Disease is rare in the United States, it appears to be moving gradually north.

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