The Animal Doctor

A flying insect called the “kissing bug” that can carry and transmit a potentially fatal disease to humans, dogs and other animals is beginning to spread across the U.S. Well-established in Texas, Arizona and parts of New Mexico and California, kissing bugs have been reported now in Delaware and the Carolinas.

More informations from Texas A&M (kissingbug.tamu.edu):

“Infection with Trypanosoma cruzi can cause Chagas’ disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis) in humans, dogs, and other mammals. Kissing bugs can transmit the parasite to hosts by biting and subsequently defecating near the site of the bite. The parasites live in the digestive tract of the bugs and are shed in the bug feces. When infectious bug fecal material contaminates the mucous membranes or the site of a bug bite on a mammal, transmission of the parasite can occur. Alternately, dogs can also become infected through the consumption of infected bugs. The parasite can be transmitted congenitally, through blood transfusion, and through transplantation of infected organs. Chagas’ disease is endemic throughout Central and South America, and is increasingly recognized as both a human and veterinary health concern in the southern United States. Chagas’ disease became a reportable disease in Texas in 2013.

“In dogs, infection with the Chagas parasite can cause severe heart disease; however, many infected dogs may remain asymptomatic. There are variations in the degree of complications from Chagas’ disease that likely relate to the age of the dog, the activity level of the dog, and the genetic strain of the parasite. Cardiac rhythm abnormalities and sudden death may occur, as well as bloat due to reduced cardiac function and inability to properly pump fluids throughout the body. ...

“Testing for canine infection with the Chagas parasite is available through the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (tvmdl.tamu.edu). Unfortunately, treatment options are not readily available, although some research teams are developing new treatment approaches that are promising. There is currently no vaccination that protects against Chagas’ disease for either dogs or humans.

DEAR DR. FOX: My dog loves cheese. Is it safe to give her a small piece as a treat? -- R.M., Fargo, North Dakota

DEAR R.M.: Generally, it is safe; all things in moderation.

Avoid orange-colored cheeses that contain a plant dye (annatto) that can cause seizures in dogs. I also avoid all U.S. cheeses and dairy products (plain yogurt and kefir being good for dogs) that are not organically certified. This is because many dairy cows here are injected with rBGH, a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. This product, which can harm cows and shorten their lives, is banned in Canada and Europe for humane and consumer health reasons. (For details, see https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/recombinant-bovine-growth-hormone.html.)

Some non-organic dairies do not use this drug, and will indicate this with “No rBGH” on the label.

OLDER PEOPLE SAY PETS MAKE THEM FEEL LOVED, REDUCE STRESS

Fifty-five percent of 50- to 80-year-olds responding to a survey said they own at least one pet, and nearly 90 percent of those owners said their pet contributes to feelings of being loved. Around 80 percent said pets mitigate stress, nearly 75 percent said their pet gives them a sense of purpose, and 64 percent said their pet helps them stay active.

Drawbacks to having a pet included adding complexity to leaving the house or traveling, financial strain and related falls or injuries. (TIME, April 3)

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)

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