The pine processionary (also known as Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is a caterpillar which comes down trees between December and April in a “procession” of several caterpillars winding their way to a soil loose enough to burrow.
So far, so good. Yet this tiny insect, in the larval stage, can turn out to be extremely dangerous for dogs and humans alike, especially if you spend a lot of time outside.
Why can the pine processionary caterpillar be so dangerous?
In winter, caterpillars gather in ball-like nests in the branches of pines and sometimes in other trees like cedars, which weakens them greatly. Apart from weakening trees and forests, the pine processionary caterpillar is especially dangerous for animals and human beings who might encounter it along their way. Indeed they are covered in highly poisonous hair, which is particularly nasty during the third stage of their development.
When the nests are removed from trees, a lot of poisonous hair usually flies around and in the event of contact with humans’ or animals’ mucous membrane and/or skin, they can cause serious allergic reactions, rashes, eye irritation and breathing difficulties.
Between December and April (depending on the climate of each region) the caterpillars leave their nests in a “procession” and wind their way to a soil loose enough to burrow. This is the time of the year when one should be particularly on the lookout for these little critters slithering in line and catching the eye of young children and animals alike. Dogs in particular are prone to going near them to touch them or just to get a closer look at their curious shape.
If the nests fall to the ground, dogs tend to be drawn by their cotton ball-like shape and get closer to investigate. Every year, there are numerous cases of dogs suffering from violent allergic reaction and needing an emergency visit to the vet’s. In the most serious cases, these reactions can lead to death.
The most serious symptoms in case of contact with the caterpillar’s poisonous hair are swelling of the snout and tongue, which can turn purply-blue. The most important thing to do in such a case is to act fast, by cleansing the dog’s muzzle with warm water (make sure not to rub!) and head to an emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The vet will give your dog powerful corticosteroids to cure the allergic reaction quickly.
We hope that this article was of use to you and gave you more information about the dangers of the pine processionary. At Gudog, as you know, our motto remains “better safe than sorry“. This is why we made an infographic summing up the key things to know on the topic. Feel free to pass it around with your friends or on social media. Everyone should know what to do in such an event in order to act quickly. At the height of the pine processionary’s season, we even recommend avoiding, or at least being extremely careful during, walks in the woods, parks and green spaces in general. Let’s keep all the members of our family safe, and especially the four-legged ones!