These fluffy-looking caterpillar-like larvae (sometimes referred to as Pine Caterpillar and Thaumetopoea pityocampa larvae in Latin) arouse the dog's curiosity. The dog wants to play with them so it hits them playfully with it's paw. When wounded, the larvae secrete an acidic poison, which stings painfully upon contact with the skin. To ease the pain, the dog starts to lick it's paw. Thus effectively spreading the poison to it's mouth. Here, the poison can cause extensive and severe tissue damage.
Cats, on the other hand, seem to have an inherent fear of the larvae and it is quite unusual for a cat to be poisoned.
Keep your dogs away
Depending on the weather, and consequently the heat, the pine caterpillar can be active between January and May. They form small cocoons on the branches of the Pine trees that somewhat resemble cotton balls. During the winter, these cocoons develop into the larvae.
In early spring, the fully developed larvae climb down the trees. They advance in large colonies, processions, by creeping forwards looking for food. Later in spring they dig themselves underground and then develop into adult moths in mid-May.
The larvae are small, anywhere from 3 to 5 centimetres and are covered in hair. They somewhat resemble centipedes clinging on to each other. Their processions can be up to 50 metres long.
As mentioned before, the larvae secrete an acidic poison, which causes severe infections in the dog's mouth or tongue upon contact. If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with them, immediately consult your nearest veterinarian.
Signs and symptoms
It is easy to detect the problem early, as a poisoned dog has extremely powerful salivation. The poison quickly leads to a severe allergic reaction. This can lead to lowered blood pressure, which, in turn, can lead to shock and even death. Another sign is that dogs' tongues usually experience heavy swelling.
Dogs that survive the first stage usually develop an infection on the tongue and/or throat. After some time gangrene can occur, causing parts on the tongue to fall off.
This is an emergency and the dog should be placed under a vet's attention as soon as possible. But as first aid, it is advisable to flush the dog's mouth with plenty of water. Be sure to remember that the poison is also harmful to humans, so be sure to wear protective gloves.
In public areas, the municipality is obligated to poison the cocoons. Elsewhere, however, it is recommended to give mind to where you walk your dog. On the pine trees it is common to see the cocoons hanging down. During spring, avoid walking your dog in areas where there are ”infected” pine trees. If you're uncertain, place a muzzle on your dog, preventing it from getting the poison in it's mouth in case of encountering the larvae. If you have a pine tree at home, and can clearly see the cocoons on it's branches, contact a pest-control company, who will help in you in getting rid of the larvae.
Do not let this pest discourage you from walking your dog. By being attentive you significantly decrease the risk of your pet being injured.