Vet advice: Parasite from 'kissing bug' is deadly to dogs

Melissa Holmes|@LissaCHolmes Staff Writer

GLEN ROSE - An insect known as the "kissing bug" is wreaking havoc amongst the dog population in Texas.

The bug carries a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), which can cause the potentially deadly Chagas disease in humans and dogs. Researchers at Texas A&M University have recently documented many cases of Chagas disease in dogs in various counties throughout Texas.

Veterinarian, Dr. Gary Crabtree said that the bug is more prevalent in South Texas. However, he did warn that kissing bugs can be found in and around Glen Rose. Just recently he tested a dog in his clinic for Chagas.

The kissing bug feeds on blood and it gets its name because it commonly bites people around the face and mouth. Once the bug bites a victim it defecates and The T. cruzi parasite, which lives in the digestive tract of the bugs, is deposited on the site of the bite or on mucous membranes and can cause someone to become infected with Chagas. Dr. Crabtree stated that dogs can become infected when they eat a kissing bug or through an open wound.

Once a dog becomes infected, it is hard to determine symptoms and many infected dogs remain asymptomatic. Dr. Crabtree did suggest to bring your dog to the veterinarian if you notice that they are feeling poorly and appear sluggish, have become intolerant to exercise or lack coordination and have enlarged lymph nodes. To determine if a dog has been infected with Chagas disease a blood test will be administered, and it will be tested for the antibodies of the T. cruzi parasite.

The degree of the complications from the disease can vary based on the age and activity level of the dog, and which strain of the parasite the dog is infected with. In dogs, Chagas can cause severe heart disease and failure and sudden death may occur. The disease can also harm the digestive tract of dogs. Unfortunately, there isn’t any treatment or current vaccinations available for Chagas disease.

If your dog has recently been to a dog kennel be particularly cautious. The environment in kennels make them a perfect place for Chagas disease transmission. Due to the high density of dogs and the heat and carbon dioxide that they produce in such confined spaces, kissing bugs are attracted to the surroundings.

To decrease the possible exposure to kissing bugs, Dr. Crabtree recommended that owners practice insect control, such as installing screens around dog runs and spraying insecticides, as well as removing weeds around their yard. Since the bugs are nocturnal, Dr. Crabtree also suggested to limit light sources around any outside areas your dog may roam at night.

For pet owners it is important not to touch a kissing bug with bare hands and to clean any surfaces that may have come in contact with kissing bugs and its feces with a bleach solution.

If you suspect that your dog has come in contact with a kissing bug bring them to their veterinarian to be tested for the T. cruzi parasite.