Pet Threats and Dangers

Be aware of the possible dangers and threats to your cat or dog in Italy...

There are certain insects, diseases and practices that present a danger to animals in Italy. These pet threats tend to be regional so it's advisable to discuss the local dangers with a vet. However, here are some of the most significant threats.

  • ENPA has information regarding the various hazards a pet may encounter in Italy (in Italian)

The Italian Ministry of Health website has information on animal health and diseases


Leishmaniasis is a disease that mainly affects domestic dogs. It is carried by a small, yellow fly that resembles a mosquito and is around two to three millimeters long. Mediterranean countries, and Italy in particular, are severely affected by this disease. In the south of the country the problem has grown to endemic proportions.

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 anemic, and often display symptoms of renal failure. If medical help is not sought, the dog will die after several months.

Fly repellents which prevent the flies from biting are available (usually at a vet surgery) and should be used to protect against this disease from spring to autumn when the risk is highest. Alternatively, keep dogs inside after dusk when the flies are most active.

Ticks (Zecche)

Ticks are external parasites that mainly affect dogs and cats, but horses are also at risk. Animals are most at risk during the summer months when ticks latch on to dogs out walking in meadows, woods, and rural areas, especially if there are sheep in the vicinity. The ears, neck, and head of the animal are the most vulnerable areas. In the case of tick infestation, apply alcohol and wait for the tick to loosen its grip before using tweezers to pry the parasite off with a twisting action, very close to the skin. Never try to grab hold of the tick by its body; potentially poisonous contents of the tick's stomach may be injected into the animal.

Ticks are vectors of Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, Babesiosis and other related illnesses. Ask a vet for advice on how to repel ticks. Also try to avoid walking dogs in areas where ticks could be present.

Fleas (Pulci)

These parasites affect domestic animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. Fleas can transmit Dipylidium Caninum and flea bites can cause dermatitis when there is an allergic reaction to flea saliva. Flea treatments differ depending on the kind of pet owned. Ask a vet for recommendations.


Thousands of wild and domestic animals are killed every year in Italy by poisoned bait left in the countryside, woods and cities. Lazio has been particularly affected. The poison is intended for species that are considered a nuisance. It has been reported that some truffle pickers set out poison for truffle dogs owned by their competitors, which also results in the poisoning of pet dogs. Eating an animal that has died of poisoning can also prove fatal to pets. It is advisable to keep dogs on a lead when in the countryside and keep pet cats in the house.


Although these snakes are "shy", care must still be taken when in the countryside with dogs or horses. A viper bite will cause dilated pupils, muscle spasms, respiratory difficulties, hypothermia and eventually death. Bites can lead to sudden death if the bite has injected venom directly into a vein. Seek veterinary assistance immediately.

Hornets, bees and wasps

Several hornet stings can prove fatal to a domestic animal and nests should always be avoided. Stings may cause swelling of the affected area and possible anaphylactic shock. Hornets' nests should be removed immediately by professionals.

Pine processionary caterpillars

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 can 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 even die from the burn on contact. They are especially present at the start of spring. If a pet comes in contact with these caterpillars it is advisable to seek veterinary assistance immediately.


Italy does have some scorpions, though they rarely grow larger than five centimetres long. They tend to live in damp places as well as in walls and under rocks. Seek veterinary assistance in the event of a scorpion sting.

Sun and heat stroke

Sun stroke occurs in animals that have suffered over-exposure to the sun's rays, occurring most commonly when a dog has spent too much time on the beach.

Heat stroke is caused when an animal is exposed to high temperatures in closed environments such as a car or shed. Obese and older animals are more prone to this condition and it can be fatal. If a pet is suffering from heat stroke, immerse them in cold water to cool their body as soon as possible.

Graminaceous plants

The spines of these plants can be dangerous to dogs and other domestic animals if they migrate into cavities such as the ears. The sharp spine can puncture skin, particularly the spaces between toes and folds in skin. Avoid walking dogs in areas where barley and other such plants grow. If a dog begins to sneeze rapidly or shake its head repeatedly, inspect the nasal cavity, toes, mouth and ears for spines.

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