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The kissing bug has the potential to be extremely dangerous to dogs. The kissing bug is an insect categorized as members of the Triatominae, a subfamily of Reduviidae. They have long cone-shaped heads, thin legs and a dark black or brown exterior that has small lighter colored stripes. They acquired their name as the kissing bug due to their propensity to bite (feed) along the mouths of people.
Kissing bugs are dangerous to dogs because they can spread a dangerous protozoan injection Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) that can and cause a fatal disease called Chagas disease. Learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of Chagas Disease in Dogs.
The kissing bug is widespread in Latin America and is becoming more common in the Southern United States. T. cruzi lives in the digestive tract of the bugs and is shed in the kissing bug feces.
Estimates range that anywhere from 300,000 to over one million humans are infected in the United States (U.S.). Most are in the southern United States or immigrants coming to the U.S. from South and Central America.
What Dogs are at the Highest Risk for Bites from the Kissing Bug?
It is believed that dogs at the highest risk for bites from the kissing bug spend most of their time, especially nights, outdoors near woodpiles and lights were kissing bugs live and are attracted. Dogs at highest risk for bites from the kissing bug include:
- Stray, feral, and abandoned dogs
- Hunting dogs
- Dogs kenneled outside
- Dogs that sleep outside
- Dogs that spend time near large outdoor lights at night
- Dogs with homes near woodpiles, rocks, or brush
- Dogs that live in or around homes with thatched roofs
- Dogs in homes with holes in the screens, cracks, and crevices where kissing bugs can get into the home
- Dogs in warmer climates
- Dogs not on parasite prevention medications
What is the Real Threat of the Kissing Bug?
Kissing bugs infected with T. cruzi can transmit the infection to dogs. Based on one study, approximately 50% of the kissing bugs tested were infected and able to spread T. cruzi. When infected, T. Cruzi can cause a life-threatening disease referred to as Chagas disease that can cause various symptoms with the most severe being heart failure and death.
There are two phases of infection with Chagas disease, acute and chronic. The acute phase can cause symptoms such as fever, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. These symptoms can be similar to many other diseases. After the acute phase, many dogs will appear to improve and seem normal before going into the deadly chronic phase. Learn more about the diagnosis and symptoms of Chagas disease in dogs.
In the southern United States, infection rates may be as high as 9%. The threat is real. In Mexico, the infection rate may be 17 to 22%.
The real threat of Chagas disease relates to the seriousness of the disease. There is no vaccine to prevent Chagas disease and no cure for Chagas disease. Treatment is only aimed at controlling the symptoms. Many times the disease is deadly and the prognosis is considered grave to poor.
How Can Help My Dog Avoid Exposure to Kissing Bugs
There are several things you can do to help your dog avoid exposure to kissing bugs. The kissing bugs are attracted to light and live in woodpiles and crevices. One of the biggest things you can do is to keep your dog in at night. Learn about specific really good tips on how to help your dog avoid kissing bug bites. Go to: Top 5 Pet Owner Questions About The Kissing Bug.
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