Chagas Disease in Pets

Chagas Disease is a serious illness that’s caused by a zoonotic protozoan parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi. This parasite eventually works its way into the body’s circulation system, where it spreads to all of the other organs, although the heart and brain are the organs on which it has the most adverse effects.

This disease is most commonly transmitted via “kissing bugs” or “assassin bugs.” Animals that live in South and Central America are particularly at risk of contracting the disease. In the U.S., cases are also commonly reported in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Chagas Disease can also infect humans.

Chagas Disease and Canines 

Dogs that contract Chagas Disease can live with it for months or even years before any signs and symptoms arise. But, even when the disease is in its asymptomatic stage, it is still doing damage to the animal. From the moment a dog contracts the parasite, the disease causes degeneration and inflammation of the heart. As a result, Chagas Disease can sometimes cause heart failure in affected canines.

In most cases, younger dogs contract the acute form of the disease, while older dogs are more likely to suffer from a chronic form of Chagas Disease. In its acute form, the usual symptoms can include depression, diarrhea, anemia, lethargy, seizures, difficulty walking, increased heart rate, enlarged spleen, swollen lymph nodes, and congestive heart failure. In cases of chronic Chagas Disease, a pet will normally show signs of weakness, fainting, and increased heart rate.

Chagas Disease and Felines

Cats are more likely to be carrier hosts for Chagas Disease than they are to suffer any acute problems resulting from it. But despite this, the disease can cause some cats to suffer convulsions and/or paralysis of the hind limbs. In cases where a large number of the host’s cells rupture at the same time, a fever may also occur.

What to Do if You Detect Symptoms of Chagas Disease in Your Pet 

If you live in an area that is prone to kissing bugs or assassin bugs, and you notice signs that your pet may have a form of Chagas Disease or that they are acting differently, be sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.

The veterinarian will perform a thorough exam of your pet, and in most cases, will also order a complete blood profile, urinalysis, serology, and an electrolyte panel to search for identifying markers of a parasitic infection. An x-ray and echocardiogram may also be used to look for signs of any pulmonary diseases.

How Is Chagas Disease Treated?

Chagas Disease has no known cure, and as a result of its zoonotic nature and its ease of transference to humans, dogs and cats that contract the parasite are commonly euthanized. However, some drugs have shown promise when administered in the acute stage of the disease. Benznidazole in particular has been shown to help control the development and progression of the disease, but total suppression has yet to be accomplished.

More common is the treatment of the conditions caused by the disease, such as heart arrhythmias and other complications.

Diamondback Drugs offers these and other medications for managing the progression of Chagas Disease in cats and dogs in a variety of pet-friendly formulations.

How to Prevent Chagas Disease in Your Pet

The most effective way to protect your pet from contracting Chagas Disease is to minimize the chances of them being exposed to parasite-carrying bugs like the kissing bug and the assassin bug. Understandably, this can be a challenge if you live in a high-population area for these types of bugs. Pesticides may help control the population in your yard, but before applying it, make sure that the chemicals are safe for use around pets. Pay particular attention to cracks and crevices when applying the solution, as these bugs will often crawl deep inside where they will be protected from the pesticide.

Author: Giano Panzarella

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