While kissing bugs may sound cute and appear tiny, they can have devastating consequences for the animals they bite. In fact, at one point in 2015, it was feared that the insects would kill hundreds of dogs throughout Texas. As a result, then, owners in the state were asked to be mindful of some potentially deadly symptoms.
In 2011 Kiska the Japanese Spitz lived in Plano, Texas, with her owner Cora Fortin. At the time, the dog was just three years old and apparently in perfect health. But, unfortunately, Kiska’s luck was about to change.
Describing what had happened to Kiska, Fortin told NBC 5 in 2015, “One day, she brought this strange-looking insect into the house.” Concerned, Kiska’s owners therefore tried to retrieve the bug from her. But before they could, the dog gobbled it up.
Following the incident, however, Fortin and her husband may have thought little of it. After all, some dogs are prone to eating the random things they pick up on their adventures with no ill effects. But, some time later, the Japanese Spitz’s condition would take a terrifying turn for the worse.
Later, Fortin revealed, “My husband called me and said [that] Kiska [had fallen] over.” Worried for their pet’s welfare, the couple subsequently rushed Kiska to the animal hospital. As the pair raced to the facility, though, their dog struggled to even remain conscious.
And the situation was serious; alarmingly, it turned out that Kiska’s heart was failing. As a result, then, veterinary staff at Texas A&M University decided that an emergency operation was the dog’s only choice. And during the procedure, they chose to fit the pet with a pacemaker; the device would shock her heart into action every time it detected an atypical rhythm.
Yet while the operation was quite a significant procedure for a dog of Kiska’s age, her owners were just happy that the surgery had appeared to stabilize their beloved pet’s condition. “She was passing out all the way down there, so we didn’t know if she would make it,” Fortin admitted to NBC 5.
Sadly, though, Kiska wasn’t out of the woods just yet. That’s because the source of her sudden faltering health was still at large. The dog had Chagas disease, and so she may have been bitten by a so-called “kissing bug” – perhaps the one that Kiska had eaten earlier.
Kissing bugs make up the Triatominae insect subfamily and typically siphon off the blood of animals. In fact, they earned their distinctive nickname thanks to their tendency to suck blood while around the mouths of humans. But despite the seemingly cute moniker, there’s not much to love about such creatures.
That’s because the bugs – which are typically found in the Americas – carry a rare parasite that can cause the deadly Chagas disease. Even scarier, the insects can pass the illness onto others through their bites.
Chagas disease can infect a number of animals, including humans and dogs. In some cases, the infection develops worrying symptoms such as swollen heart ventricles. And in turn, Chagas disease’s effects can eventually lead to heart failure – which is what happened with Kiska.
When Kiska was diagnosed with Chagas, however, it was still quite rare in Texas. In fact, her vet had never previously seen another case of the disease; her owners, meanwhile, were oblivious to Chagas’ existence. Unfortunately, though, in the years that followed Kiska’s diagnosis, the illness would become more well known.
Troublingly, kissing bugs appeared to be spreading Chagas disease through Texas and beyond. And an investigation by NBC 5 apparently dug up something horrifying: hundreds of canines across Texas apparently possessed the parasite responsible for the potentially fatal illness.
In fact, in the two years between 2013 and 2015, Texas Department of State Health Services records show 351 dogs as having Chagas disease. However, that may have just been the tip of the iceberg, if an examination of the situation from Texas A&M University was anything to go by.
You see, in 2015 Texas A&M researchers discovered that Chagas was rife among Texas shelter dogs. “[In] the study that just wrapped up, about 10 percent of dogs across the state were infected,” revealed Sarah Hamer, who had helped to compile the report.
Meanwhile, Ashley Saunders, who is a professor at Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences department, could attest to the parasite’s advance. “I diagnosed a little Yorkie that lived in downtown Dallas not too long ago,” she revealed to NBC 5. “So, yes, it’s everywhere.”
Regrettably, though, Saunders and her team are powerless to treat some of the sick dogs that come through their doors. “I think we shock a lot of people,” Saunders added. “[But] I think one of the hardest things for me is [when] we have some clients who come in and they have no idea the disease even exists.”
And at the time Tom Sidwa, a veterinarian with the Texas Department of State Health Services, was certain that the disease would claim more dogs across the state. Exactly how many animals would fall victim was hard to say, since many pets go untested for Chagas. Yet there are some precautions people can take to minimize the risk of their furry friends falling ill.
As kissing bugs tend to feed at night, it’s best to have your pooch sleep inside. Call in an exterminator immediately if you find the bugs inside your home. And if your dog develops a cough, cannot breathe properly or experiences fainting, you may wish to ask your vet to check them for Chagas.
Unfortunately, if your pet does pick up the disease, there’s currently no cure for it – and this was a reality that Kiska’s family have had to come to terms with. “We just really don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Fortin said to NBC 5. “[Kiska is] totally a member of the family, and we will be devastated when the day comes [that] we lose her.”