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  • Writer's pictureCaméa Allen

Chagas Disease in Dogs is in Virginia

Have you heard of Chagas disease in dogs? Most of the attendees of the Texas Pet Sitters Conference hadn't either. That is until Dr. Roy Madigan presented the eye-opening topic. Chagas disease, which was once considered an ailment only seen in developing nations, is alive and well in the US. Thanks to a certain type of bug, which we will discuss today, Chagas disease in dogs is in Virginia.

Chagas Disease in Dogs

Chagas disease is a zoonotic disease - one that can affect humans and pets alike - caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It is transmitted by kissing bugs (aka assassin bugs.) Apparently kissing bugs are so called because they tend to bite their victims in the face. Lovely! But, bites aren't the only way dogs become infected. They can become infected when eating one of these nasty critters too.

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The most interesting and concerning part about Chagas disease is that it's not really covered in veterinary school because it's considered uncommon in the US. Yet, Chagas disease in American dogs is being detected by Dr. Madigan and his colleagues at alarming rates.

You're likely asking yourself, how do dog parents navigate a potentially deadly parasitic infection in their dogs when their vets aren't looking out for it? We have some ideas.

Preventing Chagas Disease in Dogs

As with most things in life, prevention is key. Kissing bugs are endemic to the southern US, including Virginia. According to reports, about 50% of kissing bugs carry the parasite that causes Chagas. Therefore, ensuring our yards are free of kissing bugs is a great way to prevent contamination.

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Per Dr. Madigan, most of the residential treatment services like Mosquito Squad and pest control companies that treat against scorpion-like insects specifically can control kissing bug populations. Kissing bug repellents and pesticides are also available commercially; these can be applied by homeowners to keep kissing bugs at bay.

If you happen to find kissing bugs in your yard or neighborhood, treat for them immediately. And, treat your home for bugs inside and out to prevent them from making a home in your walls. While we too worry about the dangers in chemical pesticides, we worry more about the exposure to illnesses caused by pests. As long as you're following treatment protocols to the letter, keeping up with pest control is ideal.

Managing Exposure to Chagas Disease in Dogs

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Uh, oh. Your dog managed to find a kissing bug. It was alive when you found him playing around with it. Or, worse, it was chewed up by your hound when you realized what she had been hunting. Don't fret. There are steps you can take to manage exposure to chagas disease in dogs.

First, if you see the bug, bag it up. Don't squish it because the parasite can live on solid surfaces and infect you in the process. A zip lock bag is a great place to put the bug while you manage the situation. If the bug is squished and you cannot save it for testing, discard the remnants and disinfect the area to prevent additional exposure.

A bagged bug can be tested for the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite. Unfortunately, finding someone to test in Yorktown might be a challenge but contacting Dr. Madigan's team may lead you in the right direction. They are the go-to veterinary Chagas disease resource in the country. If anyone can test the bug and your dog, it's them.

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Knowing the Symptoms of Chagas Disease in Dogs

Knowledge really is power, especially when it's impossible for us to fully control our dogs' exposure to kissing bugs. They can be exposed in the yard, on walks, and even at home while we're at work. Therefore, knowing the symptoms of Chagas diease in dogs is a great way to protect our dogs from the potentially catastrophic results of the disease process.

According to CVCA, a group of veterinary cardiologist practices, the following are signs related to Chagas disease in dogs:

  • A heart rhythm problem found by your family vet

  • Getting more tired on walks or when playing

  • Weakness and/or collapse

  • Bloating/swelling of the abdomen (belly)

  • Fainting

  • Coughing and difficulty breathing

Because many veterinarians are unfamiliar with Chagas disease in dogs, it's up to us to advocate for our dogs when these symptoms show up. Because Chagas can be successfully treated, having a diagnosis can be life-saving. If untreated, dogs will perish from the disease. And, since these symptoms can be confused with other heart-related conditions, knowledge and a sense of urgency can mean the difference between recovery and otherwise.

Learn More About Chagas Disease in Dogs

Don't wait until it's too late to learn about Chagas disease in dogs. Do your research, discuss the disease with your veterinarian, find a vet that is informed if yours is not, and prevent kissing bugs from taking up residence in and around your home. Taking these steps can truly keep you and your family safe, especially considering that kissing bugs can affect humans in the US and many family doctors are none the wiser.

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Healthy Hearts at Home

At Hearts at Home, we're committed to providing the best possible care to our clients and their fur families. We are dedicated to continuing education, knowledge acquisition, and spreading the word to keep pets safe from daily threats. To stay informed, follow us on Facebook and Instagram and read our weekly blog. As a one-stop shop for pet sitting, dog walking, and general pet care in and around Yorktown, we take our role as pet professionals very seriously.

To learn more about our dog walking and pet sitting services, contact us by email at or by phone at 757-745-9868. We offer premier quality cat and dog care in the Tabb, Grafton, and Seaford areas of Yorktown as well as Poquoson, Virginia.

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