Processionaria and dogs

The processionary processionary represents a real danger for the dog, for other animals and also for men, a danger that, very often, is decidedly underestimated. It is no coincidence, however, that in our country, the fight against this insect is mandatory by law (see, for example, the ministerial decree of 17 April 1998 and especially that of 30 October 2007); the purpose of these legislative measures is to minimize the risks to human health, animal health and the survival of the tree population.

What is a processionary processionary?

Processionaria is a generic term that refers to some species of lepidoptera belonging to the genus Thaumetopoea; in our country the most known and most widespread are two: the pine processionaria (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) and the processionaria of the oak Thaumetopoea processionea). The generic name derives from the fact that larvae, when they move in search of food, are arranged in a row in India recalling a procession.

In the larval state, the processionaries have a length of about 4 cm; their danger derives from the fact that they are covered with strongly stinging hairs that can come off not only after contact with humans, dogs or other animals, but also in the case of wind. They are very voracious larvae nourishing of the leaves of the plants on which they come to life.

When they reach the adult stage, the processionaries undergo a metamorphosis and turn into harmless moths that will have a very short life (just a few days).

The period most at risk is from March to May, but even the summer months are not free from the presence of these moths.

Keep in mind that processionnaires nest mainly on pines and oaks, so be careful when walking in areas where there are these plants.

Contact of the processionary with the dog

The processionary processionary represents a considerable danger for the dog (but also for other animals); following the contact, in fact, the risk of death or serious problems is not negligible.

When dogs probe the ground, if they come into contact with one or more processionaries, it is very easy for them to swallow the stinging hairs; this event will give rise to a heavy symptomatology in a very short time.

Once the contact has taken place, the dog’s behaviour will suddenly change; his restlessness and nervousness will be immediately evident. Later on, other rather worrying signs and symptoms will appear; below we will illustrate the most frequent ones:

  • particularly intense salivation, which does not seem to diminish
  • swelling of the tongue, which may swell to such an extent that it represents a danger of suffocation for the animal
  • inflammatory process in the mouth (and, to a lesser extent, in the esophagus and stomach)
  • necrosis of the tongue and mucous membrane (a process that can lead to a loss of some portions of the tongue and nose)
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea (sometimes also haemorrhagic)
  • slight weakness
  • anorexia.

As you can easily see, the clinical picture is rather alarming and it is necessary to intervene as quickly as possible if you want to avoid the worst.

The problem is that the presence of processionaries is not always noticed by the owner and there is a real risk of not being able to identify the cause of the problem in time.

What to do if the processionary comes into contact with the dog

The first thing to do in case of contact of the dog with the processionary is to remove the irritant substance from the mouth and other affected areas; for this purpose, it is advisable to proceed with an abundant washing of the mouth and the entire surrounding area with water mixed with sodium bicarbonate; to facilitate the operations you can use a syringe without needle. Wear latex gloves to avoid contact with the irritant substance (processionary hairs can lead to skin problems and allergic reactions; in the most sensitive subjects, inflammatory reactions can be particularly dangerous). As soon as this first aid intervention has been completed, you should go without delay to your vet, who will be able to assess the seriousness of the situation and intervene accordingly.

Usually, the treatment consists of administering cortisone drugs, but the treatment may vary from case to case depending on the seriousness of the individual situation and the time of intervention.

Unfortunately, prevention is not always simple; as mentioned above, considerable attention must be paid when walking in places where there are oaks and pines.

Possible remedies against the processionnaire

In order to defend itself from the processionary procession, during the winter months the nests can be removed, with due caution, from the affected plants (the infested extremities must be removed).

There are also special insecticides based on Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki which must be applied generally after the hatching of eggs and then when the larvae are at an early stage of development. The application must be done on dry plants, preferably in the evening and if there is no danger of rainfall.

Pheromone traps are also available; they must be placed on the trunk of trees; here they will intercept the larvae when they descend along the trunk to reach the ground and bury themselves.

Ifantria and dogs

Do not confuse the processionary with the American infantry (Hyphantria cunea, in the photo below), a lepidopteran of North American origin that attacks the plants and whose larvae resembles that of the processionary.

The main differences are:

Ifantria is harmless to humans and animals;

infest the leaves of broad-leaved trees, not conifers;

does not build the white cotton nests typical of the processionary;

The larva of the infantry is common in summer (July-August), while the larva of the processionaria is common in spring.

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