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, 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 is TracyPaws Rescue now testing all dogs 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. 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




What about testing?


If your dog has been exposed to kissing bugs or any animals that may be infected, or is showing symptoms of Chagas disease, contact your veterinarian. You can have your dog tested with what is known as an Indirect Immunofluorescence Assay (IFA) blood test to detect antibodies for Trypanosoma cruzi.




What is the treatment?


Until recently, Chagas disease in dogs was a death sentence. New treatment options are emerging, though. There is not a 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.




How can I keep my dogs safe?


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




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.





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  TracysPawsRescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization 84-3933841