20th March 2022
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Spring Pests & PetsHere are the latest of Beth's adventures and friendly advice from south west France. In springtime when nature is blossoming and animals free to roam again, she explains how pet owners need to be aware of some local pests, more specifically in the Occitanie region.
"As some of you may know from previous articles, springtime is beautiful in our fruit-growing part of French. Dog walks through the orchards are always fun, especially when the plums, apples, apricots, cherries, and more come into flower.
On a sunny day, the intensity of fragrances is incredibly intoxicating, and those dainty, crepe paper-thin blooms beg to be photographed. Unfortunately, the warming temperatures wake up life of a different kind. There are two species, in particular, we try to avoid. The first is ticks.
The tiny blood-sucking relations to spiders range in size from pinhead to the end of a pencil. They are usually a pale or dark brown, which deepens the more they feed. They can often be tricky to spot, but they’re likely to be around on grass stems, trees, shrubs and leaf piles.
While most tick bites do not transmit harmful microbes, some can cause allergic reactions. And certain varieties pass diseases onto humans and pets when they bite. Humans, for example, may develop a bacterial infection called Lyme disease.
Signs of developing Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms and a rash that extends from the point of the bite that resembles a bullseye. Fatigue and hypersensitivity to light are also common. Fortunately, I have never been bitten by a tick, but there’s no doubt about it; I’d be off the doctor immediately if I had any concerns.
A disease called Piroplasmosis can affect dogs. Also called Canine Babesiosis, the parasite called babesia canis is the originator. It is transmitted by the brown dog tick and is one of the most common piroplasm infections.
Recognising indicators of the disease in your dog can be tricky. The classic signs include apathy, weakness, pale mucous membranes, and poor general condition, which, let’s face it, can be associated with lots of different illnesses. If you have any concerns, it’s always sensible to check with your vet.
Having ticks present doesn’t mean to say you can’t go trekking in the French countryside. Thankfully, there are many products they hate. I use anti-tick spray or roll-on, which I buy from our local pharmacie. If you’re not sure what product to use, take advice from your local doctor/chemist. It’s the same approach for your dogs.
Being a neurotic type when it concerns our dogs’ health, I have always relied on advice from our vet. Anti-tick options range from collars to sprays, shampoos and dips. Where possible, I use herbal alternatives, but in this case, I have opted to use a product called Bravecto. It is a three-monthly treatment that treats both fleas and ticks.
Spotting a tick on your dog can be tricky, especially with longer coated dogs like Aby and Max, our Australian Shepherds. If I find one, it’s likely to be harmless because the Bravecto will have done its job. Still, it needs to go, so I’ll use a tick remover. This tool has a V-shaped head, which slides under the tick. Advice on how these nifty tools varies slightly, so it’s best to seek expert advice before use.
Another pesky beastie we avoid is the processionary caterpillar, an insect whose name comes from their behaviour. We rarely have them here, but they do occur, and their nests are distinctive.
The moth lays its eggs during the summer, generally high in certain species of pine trees. The eggs are cocooned in nests that look like oversized cotton wool balls. They spend the winter snuggled up, often in colonies of several hundred.
Anytime from December until May, depending on the weather, the caterpillars leave the trees. Nose-to-tail in long lines, they process to the ground, looking for a place in the soil to pupate.
Their orange-brown backs and bluish-grey outcrops in each segment look striking. They’re intriguing to animals and children, especially since they look like long, skinny snakes. Now here’s the sinister bit.
When alarmed, tiny clumps of barbed hairs are ejected from the protrusions on their backs. It is these which can be hazardous. The irritant hairs contain a highly allergenic protein, which, in extreme cases, may kill dogs and cats. In humans, they can cause reactions ranging from mild itching to anaphylactic shock.
My advice with these fuzzies is to steer clear, as they won’t be around for long. If you or your animal accidentally come into contact with them and suffer a reaction, there are first aid steps to take.
First, try removing the tiny hairs – which is far easier on humans. Using a strip of sticky tape on the affected skin area can be handy. The hairs should stick to the tape when you pull it off. Flushing the area thoroughly with soapy water is also beneficial. However, if the reaction is extreme, you’ll need urgent medical help.
Dogs and cats’ noses are commonly affected as they’re apt to sniff the interesting-looking, wriggly line of caterpillars. Our vet suggests rinsing the area thoroughly to remove the tiny spines. But if symptoms persist, it’s a visit to the clinic without delay.
Regardless of the country, there will always be bugs and critters. That doesn’t mean to say you have to stay indoors. All it takes is a little preventative action and seeking expert advice in the unlikely event that a problem occurs.
We’ve been living in France for years now; we live in harmony with the wildlife and have never had a serious problem. We take sensible precautions, but it’s a small price to pay for the joy of our having our daily doggy rambles in the gorgeous Tarn et Garonne countryside.
We hope it's useful and don't be put off, as Beth explains these unfriendly pests are part and parcel of living in a different country. You would have your local ones, and they can vary a lot from region to region.