Threats to Pet Animals in France

Insects, snakes and other things that may threaten the health and safety of dogs living in or on holiday in France: information on what to do about the dangers of processionary caterpillars and leishmaniasis...

There are certain insects and predators which present a danger to animals in the south of France coastline and inland mountains. These pet threats tend to be regional so it's advisable to discuss the local dangers with your vet. However, here are some of the most significant threats to pets and animals in the Mediterranean region.

Processionary Caterpillars or les Chenilles Processionnaires

The processionary pine caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is usually three to four centimetres long, brown and hairy. At the start of spring the caterpillars come out of round, white, fuzzy nests built in pine trees (normally property owners will burn these nests if they see them) and travel down the tree and across the ground in single file, sometimes stopping in writhing circles. This phenomenon will continue well into the summer.

These caterpillars are extremely dangerous as they "burn" the flesh of any animal, child or person that touches them. A small animal can die from the burn on contact. If a pet comes in to contact with these caterpillars it is advisable to seek veterinary assistance immediately.

Poisonous Ticks

There are some poisonous ticks that can cause death if they bite an animal; these are especially common in the departments of southern France. Use heavy and efficient protection methods, available from pharmacies.

Tick fever (also known as Babesiosis or Piroplasmosis) is one of main tick borne disease of south west France. It can be life threatening for the dog, and can lead to complications such as kidney failure. Early signs of infection are high fever with shivering and trembling, as well as food refusal. The urine turns brown, and the gums are paler, due to breakdown of red cells. If diagnosed, the dog is treated with an injection that kills the parasite, sometimes in combination with antibiotics.

There are several ways of preventing a dog from ticks: anti tick treatment applied to the skin, an anti-tick collar, checking the dog for ticks regularly, as well as vaccination.


Heartworm disease (Dirofilaria immitis) is a caused by a parasite carried and transmitted in its larvae stage by mosquitoes. Once the larvae matures the adult worms reside in the pulmonary arteries (blood vessels in the lungs), and cause blockages, inflammation and damage to blood vessels. While most commonly found in cats and dogs, other species can be infected.

The infection can not be detected during the six first months with no signs of infection usually apparent until the worms mature.

Symptoms include coughing, exhaustion, severe weight loss and fainting. Cats may also get pneumonia-like symptoms, diarrhoea and may vomit.

The disease is not easy to treat and can be fatal; however early diagnosis may result in full recovery. Prevention is preferable and a pet can be protected from infection with the use of anti-mosquito drops and collar treatments.

The parasite is common in the south of France, in Spain and Portugal, and Italy.

Poisonous Snakes

In some areas, there are poisonous snakes, including vipers, that come out to enjoy the sun on the rocks. It's recommended to keep a dog on a leash.


Leishmaniasis  (leichmaniose) is a disease that mainly affects domestic dogs. It is carried by a small, yellow sand fly that resembles a mosquito and is around two to three millimetres long. Mediterranean countries are severely affected by this disease. It is said that the fly carrying the disease does not bite at sea level, only at altitude - but the altitude at which they bite is not high. Any question about the area can be addressed to the local Mairie (town hall) or vet.

Typically the fly bites the exposed skin of the dog (nose and ears). Dogs can incubate Leishmaniasis for over a year before displaying symptoms, which vary from dog to dog. One clue is when the hair around a dog's eyes drops out and claws grow abnormally. Infected animals will lose weight, become anaemic and often display symptoms of renal failure. If medical help is not sought, the dog will die after several months.

There are products (available from vets) which can protect against the bite if applied regularly and should be used to protect against this disease from spring to autumn, when the risk is highest. Also cattle pest control badges (available from most pharmacies) are said to protect against the bites, but the best protection is to keep a dog inside from before dusk until after dawn, the time when the flies are most active.

Wild Life

In some parts of France wild boar (sanglier) type Sus scrofa are plentiful and may forage very close to residential areas. This is most common in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, particularly in autumn. Sanglier are nocturnal, and may forage in groups.

Be aware that a boar can easily become aggressive when approached and will not necessarily run away. Dogs may be attacked by a cornered boar which will butt the dog repeatedly; male boar have tusks which can easily gore a dog. Do not approach - instead shout loudly or bang objects that make a loud noise.