You and your pet: Getting ready for spring in Spain – by Dr. Elizabeth Nave

by Susannah Grant posted on 10 February 2019

For all you pet owners, here is a useful article we originally posted in March 2014

From the desk of A.A.H. Veterinary Services, Dr. Elizabeth Nave

You and your pet: Getting ready for spring in Spain

Now is the time to prepare your pet for the new season, as February and March see the freezing temperatures of winter give way to the warmer climate of spring. The 4 major points to address are:

Ticks and Fleas

Leishmaniasis prevention

Pine tree caterpillars

Kennel Cough


1) Ticks and Fleas: In the depth of winter we almost forget the problem of fleas and ticks since in Madrid there is little humidity and these creatures tend to hibernate when temperatures fall below freezing. Fleas are mostly found in the northern, greener areas of Spain and in the coastal, more humid areas. Since the major problem in Spain is ticks, and most treatments for ticks prevent fleas as well, we will concentrate more at this time on ticks:

Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants in wooded areas and bushes waiting for prospective hosts. Once locked in place, the tick will not detach until its meal is complete. On dogs, ticks often attach themselves in crevices and/or areas with little or no hair – typically in and around the ears, the areas where the insides of the legs meet the body, between the toes, and within skin folds. Most species of ticks go through four life stages – eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. The eggs can remain dormant in the environment for years until the situation is ideal for them to hatch out.

Ticks can transmit diseases to your dog and to you as well. These diseases are:

Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and rocky mountain spotted fever.

These diseases can cause severe problems in both dogs and humans, so it is very important to prevent ticks attaching themselves. February is the time to begin preventive treatment as the eggs will hatch out with the first heat of spring. We always recommend the use of two different products so if one is not effective the other will be. This is especially important in animals that are out in the country or taken for walks in parks.


2) Leishmaniasis: The disease Leishmania is endogenous to Spain. It is transmitted by a sandfly, which has a mosquito-like life cycle, so we need to be thinking about when and where we begin to get mosquito bites in order to understand the prevention of this disease. Mosquitoes are mostly found in humid, coastal areas, however they are also to be seen in dryer climates in moist areas such as near rivers and lakes, or in well-watered yards. The abundance of the sandflies depends on the amount of water and rainfall during the year. They are more prevalent at dawn and dusk and in spring and fall. To help to prevent the disease (it can never be 100 % prevented) we recommend the use of the Scalibor collar and are getting incredibly good results. This collar has a longer effective life than others, and seems to be doing the job, as well as being very adequate at preventing ticks and fleas. However, we would still ask you to use another preventative for ticks/fleas, especially when you walk your dogs in the fields or are in smaller towns, or when they will be with other dogs (boarding or playing in the park). We choose two products in general because if one fails to work, the other is present to take over prevention. It is important to be aware that having a dog in a well-watered yard, especially at dawn or dusk and in spring or fall, will increase the chances of acquiring the disease.

We also recommend doing a blood analysis, usually in Sept-Oct, but sometimes in areas where the disease is more prevalent, we also suggest a blood test in May-July.


3) Pine tree Caterpillars: These are otherwise called Processionary caterpillars (Thaumetopoea Pityocampa). Google them and look at the pictures so you will recognize them and be sure to avoid them!

The moths lay eggs in the pine trees in September/October. The nests are bags of a spider-web-like material full of hundreds of eggs which grow into caterpillars that hatch out in the first warmth of spring. The caterpillars fall to the ground and then migrate in a long line – procession – to where they will transform into moths. This caterpillar stage can begin in late February and lasts for the better part of March. As your pet is out roaming he can come into contact with them and the product that the caterpillars emit is a caustic acid which can burn your pet’s tongue, nose, eyes, paws and feet. In the simplest case it will cause acute itchiness, but in the most violent cases it has been responsible for causing shock reactions and the burning of tongue and lips to the point of them falling off. The animals can become desperate with the pain, and go into anaphylactic shock so this is a true emergency! We recommend being very careful in the month of March, identifying the pine trees and looking out for the nests in the trees where you will walk your dog, then watching the ground for any sign of the caterpillars. Animals are best kept on a lead during this time.

Prevention includes having your trees sprayed in October so the eggs are killed before they hatch. Do not, on any account, handle the bags or caterpillars yourself as they are also pretty dangerous to humans!

The Guardia Civil or Seprona can be called on 062 to aid in destruction of the nests.


4) Kennel Cough: This is a disease produced by a virus and a bacteria acquired at the same time and is highly contagious. It is called Kennel Cough because it is usually acquired in kennels, yet in the larger cities we tend to send our dogs to kennels when we travel. Even if you haven’t, there is probably a dog near you which has gone to a boarding kennel and can deliver your dog the disease. The rainy seasons (spring and fall) are when we see most cases of this disease, so we highly recommend that you vaccinate your pet against it. The consequences of not doing so are a dog with a goose honk cough all night, and the illness usually runs 10 days. Rarely would a dog acquire pneumonia, but it is not impossible, so your dog should be seen by a professional as soon as possible if he starts to cough at these times of the year.


5) Heartworm Disease: Heartworm in Spain is mainly a disease found in coastal areas. Dogs living in, or visiting these areas should be following a preventive treatment. In the more central region, we do not have dogs on prevention as it is not generally found in this area.  Before prescribing a preventive treatment for your dog he should always have a blood test taken beforehand.  If you are vacationing with your dog in the coastal areas, he can have a once-a-month prevention for the time you are there.


Our website has more in-depth articles about these diseases, and please feel free to read our FAQ section for more details at
Dr. Nave

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