The pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) owes its name to the fact that the whole group moves in a line, as in a procession. It may be found all over the mainland of Spain as well as on the Balearic Islands. All pine species can be affected.
These caterpillars complete their life cycle around January-February, and this is when they are most dangerous to pets, because they descend from pine trees in a procession looking for suitable earth in which to bury themselves. A female leads the procession and ejects the silk thread that guides it.
The main victims of contact with the caterpillars are dogs, and only occasionally cats (they are less impulsive, more calculating and selective). Dogs will be likely to lick or touch the moving lines when they catch their attention, or the fallen nests that have irritating hairs belonging to the caterpillars on the outside, and they become infected directly. Dogs are more likely to become infected, especially puppies, given that cats are more cautious.
Typical symptoms are an edematous inflammation of the lips, mouth and head in general. Animals become very excited, are in pain and try to scratch themselves, salivating excessively.
If the tongue has become infected, the area that has been in contact with the caterpillars shows necrosis that starts with a greenish colour and abundant drooling, turns black and finally the affected piece of tongue falls out. During this time, lasting approximately 15 days, the animal cannot eat and must be fed intravenously or with liquid or semi-liquid food or through a catheter. The highest danger is if the larynx has been affected, because the inflammatory reaction can even asphyxiate the animal.
As soon as you are aware of the intoxication, you should clean the area with soap and warm water and take the animal immediately to the vet.
Avoid walking your dogs in pine forests if you see caterpillar nests or processions during the spring. If there are nests in your home, cut off the branches and burn the nests to prevent the larvae from hatching.
The artificial methods that have been used are: injecting the nests with kerosene, using biological and chemical insecticides, pheromones used to attract the males to a trap or insecticides placed on the trunks of pine trees to prevent the caterpillars from descending from the trees.
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