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Althaía Veterinary Hospital 
Cuesta de las Narices 40
03590 Altea, Alicante
Tel. 96 688 01 57. 96 688 08 84
Fax 96 688 08 84
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Timetable Covid-19: Monday to Friday 10:30 to 14:00; Saturday 10:30 to 13:00.
By appointment only

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Pet Intoxication (=Poisoning?)

Before reaching your local veterinary center:  DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING (=MAKE YOUR PET SICK)

  • with salt or corrosive solutions
  • in an already vomiting animal
  • in a highly agitated or seizuring pet
  • or the opposite, in a weak and debilitated pet
  • in a recently operated animal (especially abdominal surgery)
  • when you suspect ingestion of engine oil or derivatives
  • in exotic pets
  • with activated charcoal to a vomiting animal
  • in pets that may be dehydrated
  • in pets with diarrhea

Information about plants that could be dangerous for your pet. Click here

CaterpillarPrimarily from February to July, our pets can come into contact with the “procesionaria caterpillar”, scientifically known as Thaumatopoea pityocampa, which falls from nests or bags (like large balls of cotton wool), hanging among the branches of pine trees.

In Spain, the caterpillar is considered as the second most destructive pine tree plague, after forest fires.

It predominates in sunny geographical areas but can adapt to adverse climatic conditions.  The silk nests act as “solar radiators” providing the temperature required for the development of the larval stages, thus explaining their ability to survive winter temperatures below 0ºC.

The NestTowards the end of summer, the first moths (buried in the soil during the crisalus stage) emerge.  The females are fertilized during the night and lay their eggs on the pine needles.  The eggs are protected by the abdominal scales of the moth and form a yellowish tube +/- 5 mm.long containing up to 200 eggs, from which emerge the young caterpillars, that feed on the surrounding pine needles.  As the caterpillars mature they develop the ability to sting and begin weaving their so characteristic silk “nests” or bags.

Each nest harbours an average of 100 caterpillars united by a single strand of silk and small yellow deposits of excrement.

In the daytime, in the interior of their nests, they store the heat necessary to withstand the lower evening temperatures of their feeding forays.

In the evenings they move, in semiclosed formations similar to a procession (this fact is the reason for their Spanish name) joined at the extremities and united by a silk thread, through the branches, in search of pine needles to feed on.

They return to the nest using the silk threads left behind as homing guides.   Rarely do they abandon the pine tree that harbours their nest, except in search of food.

Caterpillar ProcessionThe final procession occurs from February to July and is influenced by local climatic conditions (the warmer the climate the earlier the processions).

The caterpillar has a black skin and head, red hairs along its back, and grey ones along its sides.  When temperatures reach the 20ºC range, the burying reflex is set in motion.  The caterpillars leave the nests in the morning and in procession, search for appropriate ground to bury in, or crawl under foliage where crysalization occurs.

The caterpillar stage is the most vulnerable for predators and thus, the development of defense mechanisms made up of a covering of “irritant” hairs capable of liberating proteins (called taumatopein) that can cause acute histamine release.  The histamine is responsible, among other secretions, of the allergic reaction in animals and humans.

AdultEach hair is a sealed ampoule containing taumatopein.  The hairs in turn end in a sharp point that can bury into their victims like “harpoons”.  The hair then bursts, liberating the toxin.

In each nest, large quantities of stinging hairs are left behind so that when these are handled or burst, the hairs can be transported by the wind, and in contact with skin or mucous membranes can cause reactions in seasons during which animals or humans have had no direct contact with the caterpillars.

The signs/symptoms of poisoning occur primarily in dogs and rarely in cats.

The strings or lines of caterpillars on the move are particularly attractive to the animals who as they sniff and lick, cause a defensive reaction from the caterpillars who in turn release their irritant hairs, causing violent allergic reactions around the mouth, eyes and tongue of their victims.

The onset is always sudden and requires immediate attention.  Swelling of the lips, muzzle and face and abundant drooling are the first signs.  These can be followed by itching around the head, wrestlessness and constant rubbing of the muzzle and face on the ground.  When contact with the tongue happens, there is serious inflammation and sloughing of the affected parts.  As time goes by large sections of the tongue show “gangrene” and eventually drop off.

Some animals can present acute onset of vomiting of swallowed saliva and others, severe inflammation of the eyes and adjacent structures.

Cats are very much more selective with their diet and therefore poisoning by caterpillars is far less frequent, although the occasional animal may present with inflammation and swelling of the tongue, gums and cheeks,  accompanied by abundant salivation.

The most characteristic difference between caterpillar poisoning and an allergic reaction to other insect bites is, that in the latter, the tongue is rarely involved and a generalized reaction of itchy swellings over the trunk, neck and head frequently occurs.

Prevention includes:
- avoiding pine trees with visible caterpillar nests
- muzzle your animal if there is no option
- fumigating the nests with pyrethrin insecticides towards the end of summer or early autumn when the caterpillars are in their larval stages and particularly sensitive to insecticides
- injecting oil or insecticides directly into the nests, prunning, burning, or shooting inaccessible nests with air guns are all effective

Treatment is urgent, urgent, urgent!!  Washing the affected areas immediately and thoroughly with abundant water will help clear away the traumatic hairs.  Avoid rubbing the area and thus bursting the urticant hairs which release poison.

Once at your local vet, corticoids and antibiotics will be administered in an effort to slow or arrest advance of the process.

Note:  This article has been adapted from “Envenenamientos por procesionaria del pino - conceptos generales y pautas de  actuación”, written by Bernal, Cerón, Tecles and Bolio from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Murcia.

CinamomoIt has recently come to our notice a case of dog poisoning through ingestion of CINAMOMO TREE (also known as CHINABERRY, UMBRELLA or HIMALAYA TREE) SEEDS.

The tree is common as a shade tree on many streets of Mediterranean towns.  Its wood is used for furniture and wood shavings.

Many toxic substances have been isolated from the roots, bark, fruit and leaves.

Apparently, swallowing 6 to 8 seeds is enough to kill a person with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, pulmonary congestion, rigidity, lack of coordination and finally, heart paralysis.

The case in question presented with two days of projectile vomit, depression, abdominal pain and fever.  One day later the stools were liquid and bloody.

Diagnosis was based on the vomiting of 4 seeds and previous image of foreign bodies in the abdominal x-rays and echograph study.

Treatment was basically symptomatic and supportive under intensive care for over one week.

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