This insect may have a cute sounding name, but the Kissing Bug can be deadly for a pet bitten by it. The Kissing Bug preys on people too. It transmits a parasite to a host that causes Chagas disease in humans, dogs, cats and other mammals, which can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
The Kissing Bug is a nocturnal insect. In the United States, there are 11 different species. The most common coloring is dark brown or black with a ridge of orange or red stripes along the edge of their flat, broad back. These inch-long insects do kiss their victims (sort of), but there’s nothing romantic about a smooch from this blood sucking bug.
They prefer to bite around the mouth and eyes, which is why they are called Kissing Bugs. They are also known as triatomines, assassin bugs and cone-nose bugs. After “kissing” a host, the insects leave behind fecal matter close to the bite. When a person or animal scratches or rubs the area, parasites can be rubbed into the bite wound, infecting their host and causing Chagas (pronounced Sha-gus) disease. Parasites can also enter the body through a cut, the lips, nose and eyes.
Kissing Bugs are more commonly found in South America, Central America, Mexico and as far south as Argentina. In the United States, 28 states have reported that Kissing Bugs are established in their region, primarily in the southern half of the country and Hawaii. Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico have higher concentrations, and Texas is considered to be a hot spot for Chagas disease. According to Texas researchers, Chagas is on the rise and has the potential to make a slow northward push over time. The Center for Disease Control has found the Kissing Bug further north in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Climate change is one factor that has allowed some tropical diseases, like Chagas, to invade our country and spread.
Chagas can be hard to diagnose in both humans and animals, because symptoms may not appear for months to years after being infected. Dogs and cats can become infected by a bite, eating infected prey, eating an infected Kissing Bug and from blood transfusions; it can also be passed on from mother to babies. Once inside a host, the parasite enters cells and begins to reproduce. In the process, the infection ruptures the cells of the host. It gets into the circulation system where it spreads to the heart.
Even though there may not be any symptoms for years, the disease is still causing damage to the heart. Younger canines usually have an acute form of Chagas. Symptoms can include diarrhea, lack of energy, seizures, lack of coordination, anemia, depression, increased heart rate, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen or liver, and congestive heart failure. Older dogs that live with the disease for years are in the chronic stage and symptoms include weakness, fainting and increased heart rate. Congestive heart failure can develop, and sometimes affected dogs die suddenly without showing any signs of heart disease. Dogs are more at risk of being affected than cats, and it affects felines a bit differently. They can experience convulsions, paralysis of the back legs, and fever.
There is currently no vaccine or treatment for Chagas disease in dogs and cats. The best way to prevent your family or your pets from being infected is to deter the insects from entering your home. Seal cracks around windows and doors, make sure exterior doors close tightly, and replace missing or damaged weather stripping. Keep screens on windows, doors and crawlspace vents, caulk around openings for plumbing pipes and cables, and repair foundation cracks. Clear away wood, rock or brush piles from your home.
The Kissing Bug likes to be close to a meal; inside your home, their favorite hiding places include between or under mattresses, next to nightstands and near areas where pets sleep. During the day, they hang out in cool dark areas waiting for nightfall to come out and feed. You can also find these bugs under porches, under cement, in rodent nests and animal dens, in and around outside dog houses and kennels, in chicken coops, and in between rocky structures. The pests are drawn to outside lights left on at night. If you do find Kissing Bugs inside your home, it’s best to call a professional exterminator who can safely deal with the problem.
Photos by Glenn Seplak/Flickr
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