Dangers to Pets in Italy

There are several hazards and illnesses in Italy that can affect pets that you should be aware of. The chances are that it won’t happen to your pet, but it’s as well to be informed. Where appropriate I’ve put the Italian word followed by the phonetic pronunciation with the stressed syllable in capital letters.


An obvious one in any country, but it’s all too easy to ignore a hole in the fence and before you know it your beloved pooch has escaped and got hit by a car. As I know to my cost with our dear departed Mikey, it is almost impossible to make a fence terrier proof, but it is well worth checking all your boundaries and even considering some kind of freedom fencing. Italian law states dogs should be on a lead at all times and although you will learn the safe areas to let them off (in my case, the woods behind the house) bear in mind that it is your responsibility as an owner to keep control of your pet.

 Poison (veleno  – veh-LEH-noh)

This does depend on the area and it can even come down to one hamlet being safe and another not. Sadly we have friends who have lost dogs to poisoning. It is usually in the form of poisoned meat and the excuse is (if it can be called an excuse) that it is for foxes. Often it is just to kill off strays or in the case of a truffle area, a rival’s prize dog.

 I have heard of a product known as contrathion available from the local farmaciaIt costs €2.20 and one packet is enough for a 10kg dog. It needs to be injected slowly into a muscle if you suspect your dog /cat has been poisoned and then take him straight to the vet. I haven’t seen this product personally but worth asking your vet.

Avoidance training is another option, that is, training your dog not to touch any meat except if you give the word.


Having lost a beloved dog to a porcupine and  two kittens to a fox, beware the hazards of Mother Nature. The porcupine incident was one in a million. Mikey the terrier went out late at night, burrowed under the fence, chased a porcupine and it reversed into him and spiked him with quills. This is not dangerous in iteslf, except that Mikey got a quill through the heart and tried to burrow back under the fence thus driving it deeper. I only discovered this when I found his body the next morning, having been up almost half the night looking for him.

 When a stray cat gave birth to kittens in a hollow under a bush in the garden I thought I would also leave it to nature, but sadly a fox came into the garden early one morning and got two of them. The other two were kept indoors after that.

Be careful of wild boar too, as they are supposed to be about the most vicious creatures on the planet. I’ve only seen them at a distance, but don’t encourage your dogs to chase them.

 The poisonous snakes to be aware of are viperi (VEE-per-ee)and you do hear of dogs dying from their bites, and clearly the smaller the dog or cat the more dangerous the bite, especially the venom gets into a vein. Symptoms are breathing difficulty, dilated pupils and muscle spasm. Get to a vet immediately. See my post here.

 Insects(insetti  in-SETT-ee)

Bees (api – AH-pee) , wasps (vespe – VES-peh) and hornets calabroni (cah-lah-BROH-nee) can all give nasty stings, the hornet being the worst.  See a vet immediately and get hornet’s nests
removed (surprisingly the fire brigade do this). The pine processionary caterpillar (processionaria del pino – proh-chess-oh-NAH-ree-ah del PEE-noh) is most prevalent in spring, building its nest in pine trees and its brown and hairy appearance belies its nasty burning bite. It is dangerous for pets and children (and you too) so seek medical assistance immediately.

 Ticks (zecca – ZEH-kah zecche- ZEH-keh)

I hate the bloody things! What a way to live –  the nasty blood sucking creeps! Your pet will pick these up easily, especially in long grass and woodland particularly if the area is frequented by deer. It can
lead to Lyme disease which can be passed on to people. They look like small shiny black and brown flat insects with wiry black legs. Once they have taken hold and start their vampire act they look like a baked bean. Ideally you want to remove them with the head intact so they can’t infect your pet so try putting alcohol, olive oil or essential oil on the tick’s body and then wait for it to drop off. Front Line protects against ticks to a certain extent although ,ine still manage to pick a  few up even after being sprayed.

 Fleas (pulci – POOL-chee)

Dogs gets fleas from cats and these are another horrible insect that I would like to annihilate from the planet. I have posted about flea remedies here.

Leishmaniosis/leishmaniasis (leishmania – leish-mah-NEE-ah)

This parasitic disease is a  problem in Italy, particularly in the south and it mostly affects dogs. It affects the white  blood cells and is transmitted by a tiny sandfly with white wings. A recent study found that up to 50% of dogs in affected areas can get leishmaniosis but many never go on to develop the disease. The sandfly passes the disease by biting an infected dog and then passing the infection to a healthy one. It usually bites at night the optimum time being between 2 and 4 am. Bweing so tiny the flies can get through mosquito nets. The time between being bitten and showing symptoms depends on the dog’s immune system and can vary from three weeks to three months (or even longer, sometimes three years!)

The main symptoms of leishmaniosis are weight loss, swollen lymph glands, long nails, loss of hair around the eyes, anaemia, chronic diarrohea and lameness. It can lead to liver and kidney failure and you need to get your dog to a vet who will probably order a blood test. Early diagnosis and treatment has a good outcome but serious leishmaniosis can be fatal.

 There are special collars you can buy to deter sandflies   ask your vet – and try to keep your dogs inside at night. A yearly blood test from the vet can put your mind at ease.


Sadly some pets in Italy are lost to the hunters guns each year. The hunting season is relatively short, and depends on the species and the region, but roughly lasts from September to February. You can check the hunting calendar (calendario venatorio – cah-len-DAH-ree-oh  veh-nah-TOH-ree-oh)for your area by asking locals or by looking it up in the comune or online. I know a few people who have had pets shot and there are usually stories every year in the papers of hunters who manage to shoot each other too, often after the consumption of a few dawn slugs of booze to warm up. The hunters are not supposed to shoot within 100 – 150 metres of a house (depending on the gun), nor point towards a house nor enter a private garden or land fenced with walls or metal fences of more than 1m 20 but of course a lot of these rules are flauted or ignored.







  1. Hi Jill
    I can understand your concern, especially with a dog around! I have done some research too and it seems that there are a few snakes that could fit the description. One is venomous the others aren’t. The key is in the shape of the head. The poisonous kind ( as you mentioned – a type of viper) has a large flat, angular head.
    One candidate, which is not venomous, is an aesculapian snake and can come in several colours including black. Its head is a different shape as you will see from the photos.
    It could also be a grass snake, which can be a variety of colours from green to black. It is completely harmless.
    A good website to check is http://www.herp.it/ I would also ask the locals as they will know a venomous snake or not.
    I hope that helps a bit!

  2. My Dog discovered a long black snake in the yard a few days ago. Chiko hunts the wall lizards around our yard so, I am sure he assumed it was a lizard until he was on it. It charged at him and recoiled. I quickly picked Chiko up and took him inside. He was unharmed but, the snake reappeared last evening and I am concerned that with Chiko’s curiousity peaked, he will eventually get bitten. Are you aware of a harmless all black snake that is local to northern Italy? We live in the Friuli region, near Pordenone. I my research, on-line, the only snake I could find that came close to my description was the VIPERA BERUS. I really am hoping that it is a harmless garden snake. Any information you can provide would be extremely helpful. Thanks, Jill

  3. Rosanne Allen says:

    The only thing I can suggest Liz, is that you contact an animal shelter and ask if you can borrow a humane cat trap. This is a spring loaded cage baited with food, with a flap that closes quickly after the cat has walked in. Not sure if they have them in Italy, but it is worth asking, maybe the local vet could obtain one. If this cat is truly feral, you could risk getting a nasty bite if you did manage to corner and/or catch him. Been there myself, done it, got the scars! Good luck!

  4. Liz Taylor says:

    I adopted four feral cats who lived in the woods round my house, three females and a male kitten, now one year old. His father is still in the wild, stays round the house and regulary attacks him now that he is growing up and a threat. This is Dad’s territory and he will brook no intruders. It has got worse as my cat, Tiger, has been bitten or scratched and has been at the vet’s every day this week with a high temperature abd suspected internal abcess caused by the fighting and the wound. I also causes him much stress, as well as me.
    I have tried for three weeks to catch the tom humanely, with food as a lure, but with no success, he is very quick and agile. It is my intention to take him to another area, similar in terrain to this but a couple of hours away, if I can catch him. He is a tough and streetwise animal and has a chance of starting again somewhere else, and he is used to the wild. Have you any tips on cat catching?

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