Chagas Frequently Asked Questions

What is Chagas disease?


Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and is spread by triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs. They are endemic in the southern United States (pictured in orange below), Latin America and South America. The symptoms of Chagas can easily be mistaken for other illnesses and diseases, so it is often misdiagnosed. Chagas disease in dogs can be a silent killer, and it is not well known or tested for, as we discovered when we set out to educate ourselves. In dogs, the primary effect is usually heart disease and or sudden death left untreated.




Why did TracysPaws begin testing for Chagas?


In August 2020, we lost several dogs to sudden death. All of the dogs appeared healthy and had no visible signs of illness. They died suddenly and necropsies showed Chagas disease. We were devastated. We had never seen this before in the ten years we have been rescuing dogs. All dogs coming into our program are now tested for Chagas disease.




How do dogs get Chagas disease?


  • Being bitten by an infected kissing bug
  • Eating infected kissing bugs or infected prey animals
  • Passed from mother to pups
PLEASE NOTE: Dogs with Chagas are not contagious to other dogs or humans




What are the symptoms?


Dogs can be infected with Chagas and have NO symptoms until sudden death. Chagas primarily causes severe heart failure or arrhythmia in dogs, because the parasite invades heart muscle tissue. Death can occur at any stage of the disease. Dogs less than a year old tend to develop serious, sudden cases of heart failure, while older dogs will develop heart disease. Symptoms include:

  • Depression or lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or difficulty walking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Swollen lymph nodes, liver, or spleen
PLEASE NOTE: If you live in an area that is not prone to kissing bugs, your veterinarian might not be familiar with Chagas in dogs. The disease is found mainly in the southern half of the United States, from California to Florida




Can Chagas be treated?


Until recently, Chagas disease in dogs was a death sentence. New treatment options are emerging, though. There is not an FDA approved treatment for Chagas. There is a drug that has been patented and is currently with the FDA for approval. It may be available in 2022. In the meantime, there are two drugs showing good success. Much research has been done since 2006 and after 12 months on this treatment, dogs have tested negative for Chagas and been completely cured. The cost of the two drugs are approximately $30 monthly for every 20 pounds of dog. For instance, for a 40 pound dog the cost is $60 monthly and so on. Treatment must be prescribed by a licensed Veterinarian and is not available over-the-counter.




How can I keep my dogs safe from Chagas?


Since there is no vaccine for Chagas disease, the best way to protect your dog is through insect and animal control. To minimize the risk of your dog’s exposure to kissing bugs and Chagas:

  • Keep dogs inside the house at night. Kissing bug feed at night
  • Keep outside lights off at night because lights can attract the bugs
  • Remove wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
  • Keep house and outdoor pet resting areas clea
  • Routinely check areas for kissing bugs
  • Spray kennels and other pet areas with pet-friendly insecticides
Pest control is not 100% effective. Yearly testing is highly recommended to ensure your dog does not have Chagas, and most importantly, to increase their chances of survival if caught early and treated with Madigans Protocol.




What should I consider if I want to adopt a Chagas positive dog?


We are looking for extra special adopters for these dogs. The people who will love these dogs as much as we do. The Chagas positive dogs will remain in our care and on treatment for the first 45 to 60 days before becoming adoptable. During this time, they will be under veterinary care and starting on their medications. This will allow us to adjust dosage if needed. Adopters will need to commit to continuing the treatment for 12 months. Adopters will be given instructions for care as well as an information packet for their veterinarian. An Adoption Manager will discuss everything with you once your application is approved.




How do I get my dog tested?


Testing for Chagas disease requires a blood sample to be sent out to one of two labs below- please take your dog to a Licensed Veterinarian and request for the test to be done. If your Veterinarian has never had a dog tested for Chagas, they will need to create an account with one of the only two labs in the US that are testing for this disease: 1.) Texas A&M Veterinary Medical DIagnostic Laboratory 979-845-3414 2.) Auburn University 334-844-7187 Attached is an example of a Chagas test ordered through TVMDL. The type of test that needs to be performed is called an Indirect Immunofluorescence Assay (IFA) blood test to detect antibodies for Trypanosoma cruzi.




Should I get my dog tested?


If your dog has spent any time in one of the states highlighted in orange or yellow below, absolutely YES. Testing for Chagas disease should be standard practice, just like heartworm testing, even if your dog is not showing symptoms.





 
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