Dangerous Wildlife

PROTECTING YOUR PET

Vets here in Spain notice a lot of distemper coming in from eastern European countries. Parvo is usually only dangerous in puppies after they have been weaned they no longer have the mother´s immunity and are in danger until they acquire an immunity. The virus is endemic around the world, but if the animal is not raised with infected animals(which it could pick up easily if it were in a refuge kennel) it is usually safe. An injection quickly builds up an immunity. The statistics are 70% with the first shot and 90+% after the second and no need for further ones. If the dog has grown into adulthood it probably does not need another parvo shot.

The mechanics of the drug companies is to produce a shot that covers a multiple number of diseases. So the injection we call distemper/parvo here in Spain carries antibodies for two other diseases which are important for the animal so most vets recommend getting the shot.

There is always a big problem with a disease which is transmitted by the mosquito called “leishmaniosis”. It is incurable at the present time. Your vet will take a blood sample to determine if the animal already has the disease and if it does then a periodic injection keeps the animal from getting any worse. There is also an injection to keep an uninfected animal protected.

The rabies shot has to be repeated throughout the life of the animal as the benefit/cost is just too great to take a chance so the governments in most countries make it mandatory for owners to have their animals inoculated.

Processionary Moth / Caterpillar

Processionary Caterpillars are active from December to April.

When out walking with your pet in Spain between December and April, it is extremely dangerous to get too close to an innocent looking line of caterpillars that you may see crossing your path.

The pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is known as ‘procesionaria del pino’ in Spanish and during late winter/early spring they will be coming out of the trees forming conspicuous snakelike lines as they traverse the ground searching for soft soil in which to burrow. They are to be found wherever there are pine trees; pine forests, urbanisations or road side plantings. In other words, wherever pine trees are present.

There are several stages within their lifecycle but, they are only dangerous to people and pets during the caterpillar phase. During the adult phase they are a simple and unremarkable, a short lived moth which emerges in the summer and flies at night. The male moth is attracted to the female moth by pheromones that she emits. They will mate and a single female can then lay up to 300 tiny eggs, which she attaches in a mass to a pine needle. Around one month later these eggs hatch into minute caterpillars. These larvae have 5 growth stages that are called “instars”. They grow quickly in body size, moult their skin and that denotes the start of the next instar.

These social caterpillars living in family communities. They eat pine needles by night and sleep in small temporary ‘floss-like’ nests by day. They are nomadic, the nests hardly visible.  Then, during the winter, the siblings build a permanent white ‘floss-like’ nest on the tip of a pine branch, which give the trees the appearance of having blots of white cotton wool and there are very often several nests on a single pine tree. With half a dozen or more nests in the top of a single tree, the leaves can easily be stripped by nightly foraging, sometimes clearing all greenery off some branches and in many cases damaging the tree badly. By feeding under the cover of darkness attack by birds and predatory wasps are avoided.  At dusk the caterpillars leave their communal nest in search of food, there is no single entrance hole, they simply push through the silk layers and once onto a branch they will leave a scent trail to help themselves find their way back before the morning light arrives.

Night time eating occurs during the winter months.  The ‘floss-like’ homes are carefully positioned to take advantage of the sun’s heat, the warmth being absorbed into the nest, thereby aiding the resting caterpillars to digest their previous night’s meal. There can be up to 300 caterpillars in a nest which, helps keep the nest warm.

Any time from January to April, depending upon the spring temperatures, they leave the nest in preparation for the next part of their lifecycle. A colony of caterpillars, each caterpillar measuring about 4cms, move in a long procession following their leader. The procession varies in length, depending on how many have survived to this final caterpillar stage, but sometimes contains as many as 60 caterpillars. They travel along the ground for about 30 metres or so, very often on paths in search of soft soil in which to burrow. It is at this point most people and pets come into contact with them with sometimes painful consequences if they get too close.

It is very advisable to avoid these innocent looking creatures at all costs. The caterpillars are covered in tiny barbed hairs, which are their defence mechanism. These hairs are often being shed and so can be airborne around infested pine trees, on the branches where they have travelled and also left in the line of the migrating procession.

When humans and pets come into contact with these hairs, the hairs can cause reactions ranging from mild inflammation and irritation to severe anaphylactic shock. The worst problems occur if contact is made with the caterpillar directly and hairs ingested, either by picking it up, stepping on it or moving it in some manner. Once on the skin a rash soon forms which can be incredibly itchy. Medical advice should be sought if this is experienced.  The rash can be painful, very itchy and can last for as much as three weeks.

Moving the caterpillars, their nests, or even the branches that they have walked along, may release these hairs into the air where they can be inhaled or come to rest unnoticed on clothing. The nest material that remains on the tree after the caterpillars have left will still contain the “urticating” hairs. (The word “Urtica” is Latin for Nettle, a plant that has barbed hairs, which cause a rash). Even burning infected pine branches should be avoided as the hairs can be lifted into the air and fall anywhere or be inhaled.

It is very advisable to immediately call your vet – if your pet should either come into physical contact with a caterpillar, or picks up some hairs on its paws, the irritation causing the paws to be licked, hairs will be transferred to the lips and tongue, thereby inducing itching, swelling and possibly vomiting. Look out for the symptoms of small white spots in the mouth and on the tongue, excessive drooling and chomping. In some cases partial amputation of the tongue is the only course of action.

If you are aware of the presence of processionary caterpillars in your area, please inform your local Ayuntamiento, who are able to spray the trees.

Any time from January to April, depending upon the spring temperatures, they leave the nest in preparation for the next part of their lifecycle. A colony of caterpillars, each caterpillar measuring about 4cms, move in a long procession following their leader. The procession varies in length, depending on how many have survived to this final caterpillar stage, but sometimes contains as many as 60 caterpillars. They travel along the ground for about 30 metres or so, very often on paths in search of soft soil in which to burrow. It is at this point most people and pets come into contact with them with sometimes painful consequences if they get too close.

It is very advisable to avoid these innocent looking creatures at all costs. The caterpillars are covered in tiny barbed hairs, which are their defence mechanism. These hairs are often being shed and so can be airborne around infested pine trees, on the branches where they have travelled and also left in the line of the migrating procession.

When humans and pets come into contact with these hairs, the hairs can cause reactions ranging from mild inflammation and irritation to severe anaphylactic shock. The worst problems occur if contact is made with the caterpillar directly and hairs ingested, either by picking it up, stepping on it or moving it in some manner. Once on the skin a rash soon forms which can be incredibly itchy. Medical advice should be sought if this is experienced.  The rash can be painful, very itchy and can last for as much as three weeks.

Moving the caterpillars, their nests, or even the branches that they have walked along, may release these hairs into the air where they can be inhaled or come to rest unnoticed on clothing. The nest material that remains on the tree after the caterpillars have left will still contain the “urticating” hairs. (The word “Urtica” is Latin for Nettle, a plant that has barbed hairs, which cause a rash). Even burning infected pine branches should be avoided as the hairs can be lifted into the air and fall anywhere or be inhaled.

It is very advisable to immediately call your vet – if your pet should either come into physical contact with a caterpillar, or picks up some hairs on its paws, the irritation causing the paws to be licked, hairs will be transferred to the lips and tongue, thereby inducing itching, swelling and possibly vomiting. Look out for the symptoms of small white spots in the mouth and on the tongue, excessive drooling and chomping. In some cases partial amputation of the tongue is the only course of action.

If you are aware of the presence of processionary caterpillars in your area, please inform your local Ayuntamiento, who are able to spray the trees.

Under no circumstances should you try to handle the caterpillars, cut down the nests or try to burn them.