Managing the damage of disease

By Connie Orcutt • Published: January 1st, 2014
Category: Animal Airwaves

Chagas [SHAH-gas] disease is caused by a parasite that invades a dog’s blood cells. Widespread in Central and South America, Chagas disease has also made its way to parts of the United States, including Florida.

The disease is usually spread by bites of the bloodsucking triatoma (try-AT-uh-muh) or “kissing” bug. Infection also spreads when dogs eat droppings from other infected animals, like raccoons, opossums or armadillos, or receive contaminated blood transfusions.

The parasite eventually travels to other organs, especially the brain and heart. Chagas disease can remain silent for years while the heart is being damaged. Chronically infected dogs often tire easily, are weak and have a rapid heart rate, while dogs with acute infections may also have diarrhea, trouble walking or seizures.

Chagas disease can’t be cured, so the focus is on management. The sooner that gets started, the better.