Local veterinarian explains Chagas disease, why it’s concerning for pets

Disease infects more than 4 million dogs in the U.S., almost 650,000 in Texas

SAN ANTONIO – More than 4 million dogs in the U.S. get infected with Chagas disease each year, including nearly 650,000 in Texas alone. Still, many people have never heard of it.

Chagas disease, which is spread by an insect known as “the kissing bug,” is more common than heartworm, tick-borne diseases, and intestinal parasites. In the U.S., almost 13% of dogs are infected with Chagas.

Dr. Roy Madigan, medical director for the Animal Hospital of Smithson Valley, is the principal scientist for the Canine Chagas Treatment Study at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland.

He said pets can get Chagas from being bitten by an infected kissing bug, eating infected kissing bugs or from it being passed from mother to pups.

Humans can get Chagas too. Dr. Madigan emphasizes that while humans can’t get Chagas from their pet, owners must get tested if their pet tests positive.

Nearly 300,000 people in the U.S. are infected and many don’t know it.

Humans can get Chagas by being bitten by an infected kissing bug, through a blood or organ transplant, or by consuming uncooked food contaminated with feces from infected bugs. The disease can also be transferred from pregnant woman to baby.

Dr. Madigan says 95% of his cases are asymptomatic, but there are signs to look for with your pet. Things like lethargy, fever, lack of appetite, difficulty walking, increased heart rate, diarrhea and swollen lymph nodes are big indications that your pet needs to be tested for Chagas.

The test is a blood test that currently takes seven days to get results, but labs are currently working to release a test next year that vets can run at the clinic and get results in 15 minutes.

Dr. Madigan stresses to pet owners to ask their vet to test for Chagas and when in doubt, always keep a line of communication open and routinely ask questions.

Treatment for Chagas takes a full year and the sooner treatment starts, the better.

Dr. Madigan’s company Vida Pharmacal is creating solutions for diagnosing and treating neglected diseases in animals and humans.

This includes the first FDA/CVM-approved treatment for Chagas disease as well as the first USDA-approved diagnostic test to identify Chagas disease.