SAN ANTONIO – A disease most commonly found in South America has made its way to Texas in such numbers that the state Health Department and local Humane Society are putting out warnings to dog-owners.
Chagas disease comes from a parasite found in the stomach of Triatomine bug, also known as the "kissing bug," because in South America, it bites its human victims near the mouth.
But there is nothing endearing about this insect.
After the bite, it defecates in the wound, passing the parasite to the body of its victim.
The good news is that here in the U.S., lacking the same opportunities for aggression, the Triatomine bug doesn't bite.
Instead, it passes its parasite by being eaten by dogs, but the results are the same for our canine friends.
Chief Veternarian at the San Antonio Humane Society Dr. Courtney Bridgeman has seen three cases of the disease in dogs since January.
Bridgeman said, "The parasite that comes from these bugs goes into the bloodstream and actually attacks the heart and causes heart disease. That's why it's so deadly because you don't notice it until the damage is already done."
Dogs suffering from Chagas disease show symptoms. They include:
Lack of appetite
Lack of Coordination
Some 400 dogs are believed to have died from these deadly bug bite in Texas.
Unlike in South America, where it is the No. 1 cause of heart disease-related death, here there are no known cases in humans.
"We live in an indoor, air-conditioned environment. Our beds are up off the ground, the bugs down there are more opportunistic," said Bridgeman.
To minimize your dog's exposure, it's suggested you elevate your dog's sleeping area off the ground, remove extra shrubbery that hides bugs nearby and use pesticide regularly.
The "kissing bug" is nocturnal, so bringing your dog indoors at night may also help.