Responsible dog owners have their dogs and cats treated against ticks and fleas regularly. If you intend to take your pets out of their home environment, though, it's even more important.
There's no indication that Italy is any worse than anywhere else in Europe for tick- or flea-borne disease - in fact, it's known to be less of an issue here than in other European countries.
For that reason, it is not required to have a tick or flea treatment when entering or leaving Italy.
Having said that, there is some (very small) evidence that, as the climate warms, ticks are the cause of Lyme disease particularly in the north of Italy: the Veneto, Alto Adige and Liguria areas.
The risk is very small, but worth preventing.
Our dogs regularly pick up ticks although neither they nor we have suffered any ill-effects. Ticks exist even in urban areas but certainly if you intend to travel anywhere in rural Italy, it's a kindness to your pet to treat her against ticks and fleas before you travel. At the very least, they can cause irritation and soreness.
And after all, prevention is always better than cure.
Ugh. If you've eve seen a tick you'll know - they're nasty looking things.
They've got eight legs which squirm mercilessly when they're pulled out, and they burrow into their victim with their mouth. They begin as a light-ish brown colour and quite small. As they suck the blood from their host, they become very large and dark brown.
The disease is carried in their body fluids which they will inject if they think they're under attack.
The critical thing about removing ticks is that the mouth pieces must be taken out whole. If they're broken, the tick is likely to have injected disease into the bloodstream.
The best treatment for ticks is prevention, which is possible in a number of ways.
We avoid using chemicals on our dogs as often as possible, so we've tried natural repellents. They simply didn't work.
However, others have reported more success so, if you'd like to try them before resorting to chemicals, use a good quality rose geranium essential oil (this is a link to buy from Amazon in the USA - or click on the image; if you want to buy and you're in the UK, click here).
Mix 40 drops with one third of a cup of distilled water and one tablespoon of witch hazel. Put them into a small spray bottle and shake.
Now just spray on your dog (or cat).
This treatment can be used to prevent fleas - but it won't get rid of them if your pet is already infested.
Again, we've paid a lot for a good quality tick and flea collar but they had no effect - possibly because our Maremma has very thick fur so the collar was not touching her skin.
These collars should not be used for dogs under 8lbs, which is why we haven't tried them on your little Yorkie.
This is a well-known and very effective chemical-based treatment, available for both dogs and cats of all sizes. It's a liquid contained in a pipette which you simply administer to the skin between the dog's (or cat's) shoulder-blades.
However, it does not deal with ticks. If you want to use it to get rid of fleas that's fine - but you'll need a tick repellent as well.
Regular grooming is the best way to keep ticks at bay. Once they become large, they're easy to see and feel. Run your fingers through your dog's coat. Feel anything quite hard and lumpy? Check to see whether a tick has become attached.
First and foremost, never put anything on a tick to try to remove it. You'll find all kinds of suggestions on the internet - salt, soap, alcohol, olive oil - none of them work, and you risk making the situation much worse.
Ticks don't take kindly to having things poured on them and their reaction is to embed themselves even more deeply into their host's skin. They then inject the contents of their stomach into the bloodstream and the risk of infection is greatly increased.
So just don't do it. There are other, much safer ways.
Secondly, always wear gloves when you're dealing with ticks and wash your hands afterwards.
The main aim of tick removal is to take out the head, which will be embedded into the animal's skin. If it's left in, there's a strong likelihood of infection.
There are inexpensive implements on the market for doing this. We use two of them: this forked, plastic puller is our favourite. It's easy to use on both long- and short-haired dogs.
Simply place the prongs on either side of the tick, as close to the dog's skin as possible. When the tick is firmly lodged, keep fingers on the dog's skin with one hand and, with the other, rock the stick from side to side and then pull the tick firmly upwards.
If the tick has become firmly lodged it will be quite hard to remove. It helps to have someone to hold the dog's head to stop her from moving. Then, just keep pulling firmly and consistently - don't jerk. It will come in the end.
We keep a few of these in the house - they're small, and easy to lose. Make sure you buy different sizes - some ticks are bigger than others.
Want to buy one? See more details at the end of this article - click here.
The second method we've found very simple and effective is this small, wire-based "key-type" tick remover. There are several available on the market: we chose this one because the wire which closes around the tick's body is thin enough to get right underneath it, close to the dog's skin.
Again, just place the wires under the tick's body as close to the animal's skin as possible, and pull gently and consistently. We've always found it effective at getting the entire tick out whole.
To see where to buy this inexpensive dog tick remover, click on this link.
This is a tick with its mouth embedded into our Maremma, Luce's, skin. It wasn't particularly big at this point, but you can see that already the skin around the tick's head is pink and a little inflamed.
That's why it's important to spend time grooming your dog during tick season. The sooner it's removed, the better for the animal. If left in, at best the skin will become itchy and uncomfortable for your pet.
Once removed, swab the area where the tick was, with a little antiseptic on a cotton swab. We use Vetericyn (see details here).
Keep an eye on the area where the tick was, and if you see any signs of swelling, or if your dog appears unwell after you're removed it, or if you realise that the tick's mouth is still embedded in your dog after you've removed the body, see your veterinary practitioner straight away. Your dog will probably require antibiotics.
Never just try to squash ticks. You need to try to control them on your land, and squashing won't do it - they're very resilient.
We put the ticks into kitchen paper and set fire to it with a match. Not very Zen - but it does get rid of them very effectively.
Never touch a tick with your bare hands if you can help it. Wear gloves when you're disposing of them and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Remember: it would be very unusual to catch Lyme disease in Italy. If your dog has been bitten by a tick and you're worried about the disease, the symptoms a dog will display are:
If you see any of these symptoms in your dog or cat after a tick bite, take her to the vet straight away. A course of antibiotics is likely to be prescribed, which must be completed.
Ticks can move from dogs and cats to humans. Removal from human skin is exactly the aame process as for animals. It's not pleasant, but it's not difficult.
Humans can also develop Lyme disease, although it's very rare. General symptoms are tiredness and aching arms and legs.
The tell-tale sign, although not everyone will develop it, is a very distinctive rash which will develop within hours of being bitten. It starts out red but develops to look like a bull's-eye - something like this picture.
If this happens to you, don't panic - it is treatable with a course of antibiotics. Simply get to a doctor as soon as you can.
The quicker it's diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.
Click the images to buy from Amazon.com.
This website, called "Doctors in Italy", has good information about ticks and humans, in particular how to recognise symptoms and what to do if you think you may be infected.
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