The pine processionary caterpillar can cause serious public health problems. The urticating hairs of the caterpillar larvae cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals.
The pine caterpillar (Thaumetophoea pityocampa), also known as pine processionary, lives in pines and cedars. Between January and May, migration begins. They leave the pines in long head-to-tail processions and bury themselves in the soil a few inches deep.
Each processionary caterpillar has 120 000 stinging hairs distributed in 8 receptacles. When moving, the caterpillar opens these receptacles releasing thousands of hairs and increasing the possibility of intoxication of a person or an animal that comes in contact with them. The hairs act like needles, injecting the toxic substances into the skin or mucous membranes. Children and dogs by their curiosity and playful behaviour are the main affected by the pine caterpillar.
When sniffing or biting c57Baterpillars, dogs expose the muzzle and mouth to toxic hairs, and necrosis of tissues often occurs after contact. The tongue of dogs is usually the most affected organ. Initially it swells and turns blue, followed by the formation of yellow or black areas of necrosis. Other common sites are the oral mucosa, skin, eyes and digestive system.
- General body pruritus or ocular pruritus
- Lack of appetite and salivation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Respiratory distress
- Feeling of fainting
- Necrosis (tongue)
If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with the processionaries, you should take your pet IMMEDIATELY to the veterinarian. Early treatment favors prognosis.
You should not apply ointments or give your pet any medication. You can wash with vinegar or flush the affected area with plenty of water to relieve symptoms, NO SCRUB to prevent hair from further piercing the skin.
The treatment of the lesions is symptomatic because there is no antidote. The affected area will be washed (to remove caterpillar hair) and anti-inflammatories, analgesics and antibiotics will be prescribed (to prevent secondary infections).
In severe cases the animal may be hospitalized. In very severe situations, the affected area may have to be removed by amputation. Contact with caterpillars can be fatal for your pet.
When the caterpillars are in procession, you should prevent your dog from accessing the pine forests to prevent their contact with the caterpillars and resulting lesions.
Prevention is the best medicine!