Chagas Disease in Dogs & Cats
Dr. Roy Madigan, Leading Researcher in Chagas
One of the most eye-opening sessions at the Texas Pet Sitters Conference was presented by the brilliant - in every sense - Dr. Roy Madigan of the Animal Hospital of Smithson Valley. I don't know how anyone can make a conversation about a nasty, potentially deadly insect so entertaining but he sure did!
If you are not familiar with his research, Dr. Madigan has become one of the world leaders in Chagas Disease in cats and dogs. I plan to have him on my show but, in the meantime, want to share the following info.
Chagas Disease & How It's Spread
Chagas is not just found in Latin America. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite that is spread by the kissing bug, endemic to the US South. Just because you're in the north, doesn't mean these bugs cannot make their way to you through shipping so don't stop reading...
Dr. Madigan is working on a dog-specific vaccine to prevent this potentially deadly disease but, as with all things, it takes time. He is making progress but it's still in development.
In the meantime, Dr. Madigan is spreading awareness of the disease and its symptoms because many pets are suffering as a result of a disease their #veterinarians aren't testing for. Most vets are taught that Chagas only exists in Latin America. That is, unfortunately, INCORRECT.
There are two tests currently available - one is reliable, the other isn't so much - therefore having your veterinarian learn the ins and outs of this disease - preferably from Dr. Madigan's resources - is key to testing and treatment.
Symptom of Chagas Disease in Pets
The symptoms of Chagas in pets are in the screenshot below. I was shocked to learn that megaesophagus in dogs can be caused by Chagas. I wish I had known that years ago when friends adopted a dog with mesoesophagus and did all they could to help him but likely didn't have him tested for Chagas Disease. Ironically, the dog was adopted in Dallas, where kissing bugs run rampant.
Please, if your pets have any of these symptoms - less likely in indoor cats unless a bug gets inside the home - speak to your veterinarian and direct them to Dr. Madigan's resources on Vida Pharmacal.
Managing Kissing Bugs in the Environment
If you see kissing bugs in your home or yard, discard of them without compromising their integrity. Don't squish them! Leave the guts inside the animal to reduce the potential spread of the parasite.
If you see kissing bugs or they are common in your area, they sell insecticides specifically to treat them. I am not for chemicals but I'd prefer to spray responsibly to prevent chagas than leave it up to chance. Per Dr. Madigan, if you find a commercial pest control company that treats scorpions, that insecticide should also control kissing bug populations. Always talk to your provider to be sure.
If your pet eats or is seen near a kissing bug, place the kissing bug in a plastic bag (use the bag as you would a poop bag to avoid touching it.) Some vets and many cities will test the bug to see if it's positive for Chagas.
Finally, Chagas Disease can affect humans so keep yourself and your kids away from these bugs. And, if your pet tests positive for Chagas, Dr. Madigan recommends you have *all* pets and humans in the home tested too. Treatment for Chagas is similar to treatment for fungus, says Dr. Madigan. It takes about 1 year to clear. But, it can be deadly so it's worth it to ensure your pet's quality of life and survival.
Per the Vida Pharmocal website, "Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and it infects more than 13 million dogs in the U.S. T. cruzi is spread by triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs. They are endemic in the southern U.S., Latin, and South America."
Did you read that? That says 13 million dogs in the US!
Just think of how many pets have been suffering from Chagas only to be put down or die before their time as a result of this unknown yet treatable condition. My heart breaks thinking our Sox, photographed with me here, who had many of the above symptoms in June 2020, might have had Chagas. She had fluid in her abdomen, which happens with Chagas, lethargy, anemia, and a marked lack of appetite yet her bloodwork and abdominal ultrasound were clear. We euthanized her because the next step was exploratory surgery and we couldn't put her, at 12+ years old, through something like that in her obviously deteriorating condition.
I bet many pet parents have similar stories. Hopefully, Dr. Madigan's work will help prevent future losses of otherwise treatable pets.
Resources on Chagas Disease in Pets
If only we knew more. Thankfully, Dr. Madigan and his alma mater, Texas A & M Veterinary School, are hard at work to educate and spread awareness. To learn more about their efforts click the following links:
Texas A&M Information on Canine Chagas Disease