The Pine Processionary Caterpillars (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) can be widely found on Corfu island in late winter to early spring and pose a great danger to pets that come into contact with them.
Depending on the weather the pine caterpillars are usually active between January and April. They form small cocoons on the branches of pine trees that resemble cotton balls. In early spring, the caterpillars advance in a tip-to-tail procession down the trees and onto the ground and later dig themselves underground to develop into adult moths in mid-May.
The body of the pine caterpillar is covered with hairs that may cause an allergic reaction and severe tissue damage upon direct contact with pets. Dogs are particularly susceptible as they tend to either chew on the caterpillars or lick their paws after touching one. This leads to the caterpillar’s hairs being transferred in to the dog’s mouth and tongue. Contact with the skin usually results in severe skin irritation, however contact with the tongue, gums or throat can cause severe swelling almost immediately, difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock. In some cases, the reaction is so severe that it can cause cellular death leading to loss of a large area of the tongue.
The first signs that your pet may have come into contact with the caterpillars are most commonly skin irritation and/or swelling around the mouth, pawing at the mouth, sudden distress, excessive drooling and difficulty breathing.
It is imperative that owners seek veterinary care as soon as possible as exposure to the caterpillar can be life threatening. Rinsing the mouth of the animal with water may help until you transport it to the vet. Please remember that the caterpillars are also harmful to humans, so make sure you take all necessary precautions when handling your pet.