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Danger of processionary caterpillars in dogs: explanations

These large silky cocoons that can be seen in pine trees are evidence of the presence of processionary caterpillars. They also have a very specific way of moving, in long Indian lines or processions, hence their name. These caterpillars covered with stinging bristles represent a danger for humans and many animals. Let's find out who they are exactly, what risks the dog victim of their poison and how to react to relieve him.

Who is the processionary caterpillar?

This species of Lepidoptera called the Pine Processionary belongs to the Notodontidae family. These caterpillars feed on pine needles and can cause the death of trees because of the weakening they cause and which favors the attack of other pests specific to these conifers.

Processionary caterpillars are the larvae of a moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) with a wingspan of about 4 cm and a grayish color.

In the spring, all the caterpillars of a single cocoon leave their nest. They all move together, in a long procession to settle in the ground where they will transform into chrysalises and then metamorphose into butterflies in a few months. These then leave the ground to fly away, mate, weave a cocoon in a resinous tree, lay a few hundred eggs and die.

Why are processionary caterpillars dangerous for dogs?

In the spring, the processionary caterpillars come down from their pine trees to settle in the ground where they undergo their metamorphosis. During this time, they are in the open, but they have a very special defense system: their stinging bristles. These are erectile micro-hairs similar to microscopic stings, so fine that they are difficult to detect with the naked eye. But they are no less terrible because they contain a violent poison and can be dispersed in the atmosphere at the slightest breeze. At the slightest contact, these hairs release a protein secreted by a gland into the body of humans or pets. This toxin is thaumetopoein.

It is not necessary for the dog to be in direct contact with a processionary caterpillar to fall victim to its poison. The stinging hairs present in the environment can easily be deposited on the dog during a walk and the poison can then be diffused in the animal's body.

Infestation of the dog by the stinging hairs of processionary caterpillars: revealing symptoms

When the dog has been in contact with the hairs of these dangerous processionary caterpillars, symptoms soon appear. Due to severe irritation and itching, the dog will repeatedly lick and scratch itself.

The incessant scratching causes the stinging hairs to spread to other parts of the body, and each bristle that breaks off releases more toxin. As a result, the dog is more susceptible to the poison. The reactions in the victim become more severe. The dog suffers physically and presents very quickly:
  • Edema,
  • Burns,
  • Inflammations,
  • An important salivation,
  • An attack on the lips,
  • Severe necrosis of the tongue,
  • Breathing difficulties due to anaphylactic shock.
At the slightest observation of these manifestations, the animal's owner must avoid any physical contact with his dog because he risks being touched by one of the processionary caterpillar hairs still present on the dog's fur. However, the poison is just as virulent for humans. The only solution in this case is to consult a veterinarian urgently.

Dog victim of processionary caterpillars: emergency care

There is no antidote for the poison transmitted by the stinging bristles of processionary caterpillars. However, the veterinarian can prescribe a treatment to relieve the dog and limit the risks of complications. This treatment can be:
  • An antihistamine,
  • An antibiotic,
  • An anti-inflammatory,
  • Cortisone.
At the same time, the dog must be thoroughly cleaned. Fur, ears, oral cavity, eyes: nothing should be neglected. Shampoo, lotion, saline: products adapted to each body area are used according to the veterinarian's advice.

The evolution of the dog's overall health must then be checked by the professional who ensures that the wounds are healing properly.

In case of tongue necrosis, the dog must be monitored very closely. Let's not forget that the dog may not be able to eat properly for a certain period of time because the necrosis can be very disabling and painful.

Processionary caterpillars: how to protect your dog?

It is strongly recommended not to eliminate processionary caterpillars found on the ground, nor to dislodge their nests. The best thing to do if you notice their presence is to notify the town hall. Processionary caterpillar nests can only be dealt with by specialized professionals.

To avoid your dog falling victim to the stinging hairs of these pesky caterpillars, try to take him for a walk in areas where there are few pine trees, especially in the spring.