Processionary moths: the killer caterpillars harmful to dogs, cats and humans. How to intervene in case of contact, ingestion and inhalation?

il bruco della processionaria un killer silenzioso e spietato che uccide cani e gatti
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Processionary moths: here’s how to recognize them and prevent you and your dog from having devastating close encounters with these killer caterpillars.

The processionary moth caterpillar is a highly destructive insect to the foliage of pines and oaks, trees on which it normally nests.

At the larval stage, it appears as a caterpillar covered with thick urticating hair.

The processionary moth larvae, having reached maturity in early March, leave their nests and descend the logs to the ground in a line, marching as if in “procession” (hence the name processionary moth) in search of an ideal place to bury themselves to weave their cocoon and transform from chrysalis to moth.

Well, yes: the nocturnal “triangular butterflies” we admire during the summer are none other than adult processionary moths.

Caterpillar processions last at least until the end of April.

Can you recognize the nests of the processionary moth caterpillar?

Processionary moth nests, where larvae overwinter, are recognizable even from a distance: they are pyriform in shape and bright white in color.

They can be well seen placed on the tops and apexes of pine and oak branches even in the city.

So if you spot them, immediately move away from infested areas.

And if you stay preemptively away from pine and oak forests during walks with your dog, that’s even better.

Why is the processionary moth caterpillar so dangerous?

The danger lies in the stinging hairs that cover the body of the processionary moth.

In fact, these hairs are soaked in formic acid, a strongly caustic substance that caterpillars secrete from their glands to defend themselves against their natural predators.

And in addition, the hooked shape of the processionary moth’s hairs allows it to “latch on” to the victim, causing reactions to the skin, mucous membranes, eyes and respiratory tract.

How devastating can contact with the processionary moth caterpillar be to your dog?

Symptoms from contact, or worse, ingestion, in dogs are immediate and obvious:

  1. A sudden and intense salivation, caused by the inflammatory process in the mouth, esophagus and stomach
  2. The tongue may swell to such an extent that it may even cause the death of the animal by suffocation
  3. in other cases the stinging hairs, due to the process of destruction of the cellular tissue of the tongue itself, may cause total or partial necrosis of the affected areas

Other relevant symptoms are fever, refusal of food, vomiting, and even hemorrhagic diarrhea.

Immediate intervention can save your dog’s life

In the unfortunate event that your dog has a close encounter with the processionary moth caterpillar, it is imperative that you act as quickly as possible.

A first aid operation that can prove very useful is to remove residual hair from the oral cavity.

Do this through copious washing of the animal’s mouth with water but be sure to wear latex gloves to avoid in turn touching the stinging hairs.

It is vital that you take the animal to your trusted veterinarian as soon as possible.

What are the effects to humans of contact with the processionary moth caterpillar?

The damage caused by contact with processionary moth hairs can be very serious for you as well.

In case of skin contact painful rashes occur that can then spread all over the body due to the shedding of hair facilitated by sweat and rubbing of clothing.

Instead, contact with the eyes immediately results in the onset of painful conjunctivitis.

Even worse in case of inhalation or ingestion: the hairs irritate the respiratory tract and inflame the mucous membranes.

Do you want to know how to defend yourself against the invasion of the processionary moth?

Pest control of processionary moth caterpillars has been mandatory in Italy since 2008, when it was determined that their presence posed a serious threat to human and animal health and the survival of various tree species.

There are several remedies to eradicate the very dangerous processionary moth caterpillars:

  • pesticides, directly spraying the larvae
  • entomological glue, to be applied to logs
  • Biological insecticides namely the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki that paralyzes larvae by damaging their nerve centers
  • pheromone traps, which attract males thus preventing them from meeting with females and consequently fertilizing and reproducing

Such interventions must, of course, be practiced by professionals in the field of pest control

Be wary of do-it-yourself methods and do not resort to the use of folk tradition substances, which are dangerous both in handling and ‘use, especially in the presence of children and animals, as well as harmful to the environment.

If you have any questions, please contact the veterinary doctors on our staff and request an appointment.

And again, remember that in case of need and urgency, the Veterinary Doctors on our Staff are always available: Clinica La Veterinaria is open daily h24 including holidays and with First Aid service from 8 pm to 8 am.

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