Killer Caterpillars, Gunmen & ‘Chien Interdit!’ – 10 Things you Need to Know About Taking your Dog to France!

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Are dogs welcome in France?

France is a beautiful, friendly country with plenty of walking, however there are a few things of which you need to be aware if you are planning to take your dog there.

Killer caterpillars, madmen with guns and a few fierce locals are just a couple of the hazards worth considering before you let loose your Fur Baby in France!

1. Is France Dog Friendly?

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Dog Friendly? A resounding OUI!

That’s a resounding OUI! The French seem to love dogs – around 40 per cent of French people list their dogs as THE most important thing in their lives (even more important than their lovers!)

We have found that well-behaved dogs are welcome in hotels, restaurants and bars. We always ask first, just to make sure, but I can’t remember a single occasion when we have been refused, even when we have met new friends and turned up with 5 dogs!

There are risks, however. Mark did once nearly get a slap when a pug on the next table stuck it’s nose up our waitress’ skirt…

One of the down-sides of France having one of the highest ratios of dogs : humans in the world (around 17 : 100) is that you need to watch where you put your feet. Although allowing déjections canines is an offence worthy of a hefty fine, poo picking is not a popular French passtime. That doesn’t mean that you are exempt from collecting up your canine’s ‘crotte’, however!

2. Are the Locals Friendly?

There seem to be predominantly two types of dog in France; small, pampered handbag dogs and SERIOUS farm, hunting and guard dogs who live outside; either chained (rope is not strong enough!) or patrolling ferociously like panthers behind high metal fences. Do not approach them. These are dogs with whom you and your pooches DO NOT mess!

Spaying and neutering is not too fashionable in France either; there are a lot of strays and even pet dogs are often left to roam free…so do watch out if there is any chance of Anglo-French relations getting a bit too cosy – and productive!

Dogs are fully multi-lingual, however, so we have found no communication problems between friendly canines!

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Dogs are multi-lingual. There is even scope for inter-species communication!

3. Are Dogs Welcome on Campsites?

The ACSI campsite guide allows you to search for campsites which welcome dogs. If the campsite states that it will take a maximum of 1 dog, this is usually adhered to. Where it says ‘maximum 2 dogs’, we have found that there is room for negotiation and we have never had a problem checking in with four. My standard line to receptionists is “Ils sont très petits et très gentils!” – “They are very small and very friendly!”

Unlike in the UK, there is almost always a charge for dogs on campsites, so it is worth checking the price. The charges vary but can be as much as €4 per dog per night in high season, which can add considerably to the cost of your stay! Thankfully, most receptionists were very understanding and charged us only for a maximum of two dogs.

4. Walking in France

With around 180,000km of well-marked and maintained walking trails, France would seem to be a paradise for dog walkers. There is a huge system of Long Distance Walking Trails known as  Grande Randonnées (GRs) and tracks that loop through a particular area known as Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRPs). Shorter tracks are known as Promenades et Randonnées (PRs). The trails all have colour-coded markers. Maps and Guidebooks are available for most of the routes.

While the French love dogs, we were surprised at the extent of the restrictions placed on where you can walk with your dog, even on a lead. These restrictions make following the full distance of many of the GR walking paths impossible, so if this is your plan, make sure that you check for dog-friendliness along the entirety of your route first! Some city parks do not allow dogs even on a lead, so check for ‘Chien Interdit!’

Dog Restrictions on Beaches and in National Parks

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Check for dog restrictions on beaches before booking a campsite.

Beaches – on some of the more touristy beaches (‘guarded beaches’) dogs are banned during the summer months, so seek out wild or ‘unguarded’ beaches. In some places, however, the ban is all year round. It is worth checking nearby beaches for dog-friendliness before you commit to a campsite. The Patawouf website is very helpful in identifying dog-friendly French beaches.

National Parks – we were again very surprised to find that dogs are banned completely in all but one of the six National Parks, even on a lead. Only the Cévennes National Park permits dogs on leads.

Regional Parks – there are 52 Regional Parks in which the rules are more relaxed, specifying only that dogs should be ‘kept under control’ to prevent them from disturbing wildlife. Click here for a link to the website for the Regional Parks.

Dog Walks Near Motorways – Aires on the motorways and major roads are great place to stop for a comfort break with your dog on a long trip. Driving with Dogs lists walks (and vets) within 5 miles of motorway junctions to help you when you’re on the move!

5. Overheating & Sun Protection

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Rosie cools down in the paddling pool, although mostly, it was used as an oversized drinking bowl!

Heat Stroke – Dogs are very prone to overheating and this was a concern for us, with the temperature in the high 30s for most of the time that we were in France. In warm temperatures, make sure that your dog has plenty of shade and constant access to drinking water. Ask for a pitch that is ‘ombreuse’, which means ‘shady’.

Our dogs love water, so we took a paddling pool with us for them to splash around and cool down. They seemed to view this more as an oversized drinking bowl, however…!

We tried to plan walks around a river, a lake or the sea so that they could chill and cool off periodically. We always made sure to take plenty of drinking water and a portable, folding silicone bowl when out walking. (If you half-fill a water bottle and freeze it on its side, before topping it up with fresh water, it will stay cool for hours.) Our pups also enjoy chewing on ice cubes, which helps to cool them down!

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Even with the blinds closed, the caravan got very hot, very quickly!

We never left the dogs alone in the caravan during the day. Even with the blinds closed, it got far too hot within a very short time. Most campsites do not permit dogs to be left alone in any case.

Burned Pads on Hot Pavements & Beaches – If it is painful to press the back of your hand on to a pavement surface or the sand for 30 seconds, it will be painful for your dog’s paws! Choose shady walks or walk in the morning or evening when it is cooler.

Sun Protection – Your dog’s fur offers protection from the sun, so avoid cutting long coats too short. Fur plays a part in temperature regulation in the heat as well as the cold by trapping air next to the skin. Grooming is important; regular removal of dead hair will help greatly in keeping your dog cool.

Sunscreen – We have never used sunscreen; grooming, providing shade and avoiding direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day (10-4pm) has proved to be perfectly adequate. However, a dog-friendly sunscreen is useful if your dog is losing hair and has bald patches, a pink nose or for hairless breeds, such as the Chinese Crested. White, short-haired dogs with pink skin are also more prone to sunburn than dogs with darker skin and thicker coats.

Choose only a dog-friendly sunscreen, in order to avoid common ingredients that are toxic to dogs such as zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). Test for sensitivity on a small area first and apply sunscreen only to fur-free, exposed areas. The delicate skin between the hind legs is particularly prone to sunburn.

You could also consider a breathable doggy vest to protect from sun without resorting to the use of chemicals. Equafleece has an excellent range of summer and winter dog suits.

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A parasol (here a golf umbrella!) or a small tent can provide shade on the beach.

We also take umbrellas or a small festival tent to provide shade when we’re on the beach.

Do Dogs Need Sunglasses? – Needless to say, ‘Doggles‘ are available, popular – and even come with prescription lenses! However, unless your dog has an eye condition, I really do not think that doggie sunglasses are necessary. Dogs are less likely to develop age-related UV damage, such as cataracts, as they have a shorter life-span than humans. Cataracts in dogs are usually a consequence of diseases such as diabetes. Most breeds also have some natural protection (deep set eyes, heavy brow and dark fur around the eyes – the dark line below a cheetahs eyes is thought to prevent glare and act like sunglasses!) Doggie sunglasses? I will leave it for you to decide!

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The dark line beneath a cheetah’s eyes is thought to act like sunglasses!

Winterised World Wide Walkies – 10 Tips to Keep Chilly Canines Cosy! might be helpful if you are heading to the cold parts of France with your dog, such as a winter holiday in the Alps.

6. The Hunting Season 

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Guns ‘n Snares – take extra care in the hunting season.

‘La Chasse’ or The Hunting Season in France runs from September to March. France is the only country in Europe in which hunting is permitted every day of the week. During the hunting season, it is not uncommon to come across snares or traps. Every season there are shooting fatalities, where people or animals have been mistaken for game. So be wary when walking through or near farmland in the hunting season!

7. Large Predators – Wolves, Bear & Lynx

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As with many large predators, the only Lynx you are likely to see is the missing Lynx!

The only time that you are likely to see any of these large, dangerous animals is in a zoo. For completeness, however, I felt that it was only correct to include details, since these animals are indigenous to France.

Wolves were extinct in France in the 1930s but have re-entered via the Alps from Italy, where they have been never extinct. Although it is said that the population is spreading and increasing (there are around 300 individuals at the time of writing) you are unlikely to see them and if you did, they would probably run away! Although they do take larger prey, they feed mostly on small mammals, birds and fruit. For details of our own wolf encounter, see Walking with Wolves

Bears – There is a small population of brown bears in the Pyrenees. They are wary of humans and roam mostly at night, so once again, you are very unlikely to see them. As with any large predator give them a wide berth if you do come across them; they are only really a danger if taken by surprise. For more information, click here

Lynx – Around 200 lynx live in the Vosges, Jura and the Alps. About twice the size of a domestic cat, this is another shy predator whom you are very unlikely to see!

Wild Boar – There are an estimated 2 million wild boar (‘sangliers’) in France living in mixed agricultural / woodland habitat. We have never seen one, but if you do, never approach a wild boar, especially a wounded one.

The Testicle Biting Fish – the Pacu, a cousin of the Piranha – the scourge of skinny dippers in the Seine (and Scandinavia – among other places) appears to be a hoax. You could call it a Pacu of lies…!

8. Disease Control Measures

What Diseases Are a Risk to my Dog?

There are a number diseases caused by bacteria and protozoa in Continental Europe that are rare or non-existent in the UK, so your dog is unlikely to have any natural immunity. These are transmitted by insects; such as ticks, sandflies and mosquitoes or by worms; such as heartworm or tapeworm. The diseases and carriers vary according to which part of Europe you travel to, so take advice from your vet.

Methods of Prevention

  1. Keep your dog indoors at dusk and dawn, when insects are more likely to be active.
  2. Check daily for ticks and remove them immediately. Tick prevention (such as ‘Frontline’) is not 100% effective and ticks carry quite a few lethal diseases, particularly in Mainland Europe. We carry a O’Tom Tick Twister (NOT tweezers) with us at all times and have found this cheap option to be the most effective for tick removal by far. When removing the tick, do not squeeze the body, or disease-carrying fluids can be squeezed back into your dog. Make sure that you remove the whole tick, including the head. It should be live and wriggling when removed. Dispose by drowning in a jar of alcohol – don’t squash it, as this potentially releases diseased fluids that can be hazardous to you. Flushing down the loo won’t kill it!

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    Ticks carry many nasty diseases.
  3. Tapeworm is transmitted by tapeworm eggs found in raw meat, so wash your hands after handling raw meat and don’t let your dog eat raw meat!
  4. France is considered rabies-free (see Rabies Update – France). However, even vaccinated dogs have a very small risk of contracting rabies from an infected animal, so be alert.
  5. Flea, sandfly, mosquito and tick repelling treatments and collars are available from your vet.

This excellent fact sheet gives a comprehensive overview of the common diseases, a guide to regions in which they are found and preventative measures; Foreign Travel Information for Dogs

9. Poisonous Snakes

There are few venomous snakes in Europe; the one in Britain and three in France belong to the viper or adder family*. Adders are small snakes, around 50cm long, with slit-shaped pupils. They are grey or reddish brown with black zig-zag patterns down their back. Vipera beris, the common European adder (the one you might meet in the UK) has a distinctive black X or V on the back of the head.

Adders are shy snakes with acute senses. Bites are rare, since the snake will mostly likely disappear long before you even know that it’s there. Adders bite only in self-defence, if they are disturbed or trodden on. Truthfully, if you see one of these rare and often endangered creatures, you should probably consider yourself very lucky!

In the unlikely event of your dog being bitten, a photo of the snake is helpful, but don’t risk getting bitten yourself, particularly by trying to pick up the snake. All snakes are protected in the UK and France, so it is a crime to harm them. Signs of an adder bite will be significant swelling and pain around the bite along with depression or lethargy. Try to keep the dog still to prevent the venom from spreading and seek veterinary help straight away. Complications are rare and with prompt treatment, you can expect your dog to make a full recovery within a matter of days.

*There is one other venomous snake in France that is not a viper, however the large (6ft) Montpellier snake is rare and because it is only mildly venomous and the fangs are at the rear of the mouth, it is not considered a risk. For more information about snakes in France, where they are found and action to take in case of a snake bite, click here.

10. The Killer Caterpillar – Pine Processionary Caterpillars

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Pine Processionary Caterpillars – a great danger to you and your dog!

A hazard of which we were unaware until a friend living in Spain told us about it is the Pine Processionary Caterpillar. Awareness seems to be low and it has been difficult to find information about the caterpillars, so I felt it would be useful to share my research here.

What is the Pine Processionary Caterpillar? – The pine processionary caterpillar is the larvae of a silk moth, Thaumetopoeia pityocampa. They live ONLY in pine trees, feeding on the needles. Infected trees contain distinctive white nests, which look like cotton wool balls. Moving to the ground for the second (chrysalis) part of their life cycle, the caterpillars join up in long lines, nose to tail, which gives them their name. The caterpillars are active in winter and spring, from around September to March or sometimes later, depending on location and weather conditions.

Where are the Caterpillars a Risk? – The caterpillars are most common in Southern Europe (Spain and Portugal) but with climate change they have been moving north. There has been the odd sighting in France as far north as Paris. I don’t want to promote panic; we camped in a pine forest in Île d’Oléron in September and saw no sign of caterpillars, however a friend in Bordeaux did find and destroy an infected tree on his land.

When are the Caterpillars a Risk? – It is simply a case of being informed and vigilant. You ONLY need to worry about caterpillars in OBVIOUSLY INFECTED PINE TREES at the time of year WHEN THE CATERPILLARS ARE ACTIVE.

Active caterpillars are easily spotted in their processionary lines, as in the picture above and the white nests (below) are clearly visible in an infected tree.

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Caterpillar nest in a pine tree.

Why is the Caterpillar a Risk? – The moth itself poses no threat, but the caterpillars can cause harmful reactions in humans and animals and have been known to cause death in dogs. The caterpillars protect themselves with a toxin (thaumetopoein) in the hairs around their body. The hairs inject the toxin, which can cause swelling, severe allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock. A threatened caterpillar can fire its hairs like harpoons. Unfortunately, it’s not just a nosy dog poking around in the undergrowth and annoying a caterpillar that is at risk; the hairs don’t need to be on a caterpillar to cause a problem. Hairs are shed in the nests and around infected trees, so even if the wind blows dust from under pine trees into your face or your pup walks on the litter under a tree and then licks his paws, it can mean trouble.

Symptoms & Treatment – The symptoms to look out for in your dog are drooling, salivating, vomiting, drowsiness or listlessness followed by irritation (rubbing) and swelling of paws and face. The severe swelling of lips and tongue can also cause breathing difficulties. Infected tissue can die and fall off – our friend’s dog lost part of his tongue. I have a photo, but feel that it is a little too gory to post!

If you see any of these symptoms, get to a vet immediately. Prompt treatment will save your dog’s life. Methylprednisolone, an anti-inflammatory steroid is one treatment indicated in cases of caterpillar toxicity, but this should be administered only under the care of a vet since dosages vary. A homeopathic remedy, Apis is also suggested. As a scientist, I do have my reservations about homeopathy. Nevertheless, reports suggest that Apis helps as a first-line treatment against caterpillar toxins HOWEVER, do not let this deter you from seeking immediate veterinary treatment.

Preventative Advice – is to simply steer clear of infected pine trees in spring (you will see the white nests.) September to May are times to be vigilant, although the caterpillars are not active throughout this period; it will depend on the climate and weather in the area where you are staying. The best advice is to ask locally.

Further Information – For a sanguine and factual account, click here. For more pictures of the caterpillars at all stages of development and an emotional story about a caterpillar encounter in Portugal, click here.

Another species of processionary caterpillar is the Oak Processionary Caterpillar. A native of Southern Europe, unlike its Pine dwelling cousin, the Oak Processionary HAS been found in the south-east of England and is also worth avoiding. Sightings should be reported to the Forestry Commission. 

In Conclusion

I hope that you find this information helpful in keeping you and your dog safe. Further doggy travel tips, such as what you need to know about doggy passports & information on travelling safely and legally with dogs are available in The Wuff Guide to Travelling with Dogs.

We have travelled extensively in France with Les Quatre Cavapoos and encountered ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEMS other than a few ticks and an incident of overheating that was quickly mitigated by a dunk in a lake.

France is a safe and wonderful place to take your dog. The risks are low and with a little knowledge and care, easily avoided. So;

Bon Voyage!

 

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