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The Doberman Pinscher Club of America

Chagas Disease Testing by Mallory Pfiefer

The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) routinely sees positive tests for canine trypanosomiasis or Chagas disease. Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, a hemoflagellate protozoan. 

Dubbed the “kissing bug” because the parasite is transmitted by the blood-sucking reduviid bug, the vector and domestic and wild mammalian hosts are widely distributed throughout the southern United States, Central and South America. The kissing bug becomes infected when it takes a blood meal from an infected host. Stercorian transmission occurs when the infected bug defecates on or near the host during or shortly after a feeding and the infected fecal material is rubbed into the bite wound, skin abrasions, or mucous membranes. Oral ingestion of an infected bug is also a probable route of infection in dogs.

Fatal cases of canine Chagas disease typically occur in young dogs, most often less than one year old. Practitioners and animal owners should be watchful for clinical signs of the disease, especially in young dogs. The phases of the disease can be identified as:

Acute – fever, anorexia, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver, or enlarged spleen. 
Latent – this phase is asymptomatic with the primary clinical sign being sudden death.
Chronic– congestive heart failure is the most common clinical sign, usually beginning with right- sided heart failure. This may develop into dilated cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias. Sudden death is possible.