The bug I'm speaking of is called a "kissing bug". They are also known as "cone nose bugs", "assassin bugs", and "Mexican bed bugs". These bugs pose a threat not only to dogs, but humans as well. They come out at night to feed on the blood of their victims - people and animals. They typically bite around the eyes or mouth on people, which is where they get sweet name. But trust me - these things are not sweet!
Photo via Glenn Seplak
Kissing bugs can sometimes carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. They pass the parasite on to dogs or people by biting them and then leaving their feces in the bite wound. Also, a dog could potentially eat one of the bugs causing them to catch the parasite. By now, you're probably wondering what exactly this T. cruzi parasite does.
The parasite T. cruzi is responsible for Chagas Disease in both humans and animals. It lives in the bloodstream of its host - the white blood cells to be specific. After it ruptures out of the cells, it makes its way into organ tissues of its host. In dogs, T. cruzi is really fond of heart muscle tissue and brain tissue.
In dogs, Chagas disease may present with symptoms that are very similar to typical heart disease. According to PetMD, Chagas Disease is endemic in South and Central America. Over the course of the past century, kissing bugs that are native to these areas have made their way up north and can now be found in the United States. More cases of kissing bugs and Chagas disease are being seen in southern states. I remember helping treat a dog with Chagas at least once while I was working as a vet tech.
I Found a Kissing Bug...
The inspiration for this post is pretty simple - I found a kissing bug in my bedroom the other day. You see, about a week or so ago I wrote an article on Examiner about the growing number of kissing bugs in Texas and Chagas Disease in dogs. I searched through pictures of kissing bugs on the web.
One night, I saw a bug on the floor (it was dead) and I flipped it over. I instantly gasped because the markings were exactly the same as the pictures of the kissing bugs I had been looking at. If I hadn't written that article, I would have just thought it was some harmless bug. Now, I am 99.9% positive that this is a kissing bug. I put it in a plastic baggy. I am so not happy about this and I hope I don't find anymore.
Yes, I put my kissing bug in a plastic bag covered with hearts... Anyways, that is my pinky finger next to it for size reference. This bug is missing some legs and things since it was dead when I found it. You'll notice the distinct pattern along the edges of the bug's body. I wish I could have gotten a better picture, but I just couldn't get my camera to go much closer without blurring the bug.
Chagas Disease Treatment & Prevention
Treatment of Chagas disease in dogs doesn't sound too promising. It seems like there are a few drugs out there that help with Chagas, but it's pretty hard to cure completely unless its discovered early. Many dogs will experience permanent heart damage from Chagas disease which will need to be supported with ongoing care and medications.
Apparently, kissing bugs like to live in old wood piles or hay. Getting rid of these things around your property could help with minimizing the number of kissing bugs hanging around your house. Since the bugs like to feed at night, keeping your dog indoors to sleep could also reduce their risk of being bitten by a kissing bug.
Chagas Disease is Bad for Others Too
Not only do I worry about my dog's safety after finding one of these bugs, but I also worry about my family's safety. Apparently, humans can have Chagas disease for decades and never know it until they become very ill one day. Definitely something I don't want to have to deal with later on down the road.
I initially thought that these bugs along with Chagas Disease were pretty uncommon, until I found one of them in my home. I wanted to share this with other dog parents out there so that they can be aware and know what to look for. Like I said before, I would have never known what a kissing bug looked like if I hadn't been browsing through pictures of them.
And if you're wondering about the prevalence of Chagas Disease in cats, there just isn't much information about it at this point in time.
There is so much more information about Chagas Disease out there. I've really only touched the surface of kissing bugs, T. cruzi, and Chagas disease with this post. The Center for Food Security and Public Health has a really informative publication on American Trypanosomiasis if you're interested in learning more about it.
Have you ever heard of kissing bugs or Chagas Disease before?