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Quick Facts About Porcupines, Quills and Pets

More than annoying - they can be deadly

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Porcupines and skunks are primarily nocturnal animals that unleash nasty surprises on unsuspecting dogs and their humans. Skunk spray is mostly annoying, although may have health effects at close range. Porcupines, on the other hand, have a much more serious weapon: quills.

Porcupine quills are commonly found embedded in muzzle, face, head and neck of dogs, but can be found anywhere. The trouble is, quills keep moving inward. Learn more about porcupines, quills and dogs and what you need to do if your dog is "quilled" by a porcupine.

1. Porcupines

Porcupine by Moosealope on Flickr
by Moosealope on Flickr
  • Porcupines are most active at night, but may be found foraging for food during the day, too. They have poor eyesight, but a great sense of smell.
  • They are herbivores - eating plants, twigs, leaves and bark. Fond of salt, they may gnaw on bones or approach areas inhabited by humans for this mineral.
  • There are 29 species of porcupines around the world, and they are one of the largests members of the rodent (rodentia) family. Their habitat ranges from grasslands, to forests, to deserts.
  • Quills are off-white and black and are made out of keratin. Up to 30,000 quills cover the average porcupine. (Read more)

2. Quills

Quills removed from a dog's muzzle by Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM
by Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM
  • Quills have very tiny one-way barbs along the shaft of the quill. This make is easy for quiills to keep moving... inward!
  • Quills may puncture through skin and muscle to enter body cavities, puncturing organs.
  • Quills inside the body also cause infection and abscesses.
  • Your veterinarian is best-equipped to remove quills. Quill removal is painful and quills may break off inside your pet. Removing quills under anesthesia reduces traumatic removal/quill breakage and allows for more throrough checking. (All muscles and skin are relaxed, making it easier to palpate for quills).

 

 

3. Myths About Porcupines and Quills

Porcupine by wildxplorer on Flickr
by wildxplorer on Flickr
  • Throwing quills - Contrary to popular belief, the porcupine cannot "throw" the quills, but they are easily "let go of" by the porcupine and embedded in animals who tangle with it.
  • Quills working their way out - Quills may get infected and work themselves out, but most often, they continue to work inward. I once treated a dog who the people tried to treat at home. They removed what quills they could, then figured the rest would work their way out. A few weeks later, we saw the dog - covered in abscesses all over the body from the remaining quill tips.
  • Breaking quills - Some people advocate crushing the quill to "let the air out" of it, but quills are like the shaft of a feather. This doesn't work; they just get more splinter-y.

 

4. If Your Dog Gets Quilled

Dog with porcupine quills by daisyelaine on Flickr
by daisyelaine on Flickr
  • Minimize movement - quills embedded in the chest and legs may migrate in further.
  • Call your veterinarian - most often quills are removed in-office under anesthesia and the dog is home the same day. For severe cases, x-rays, ultrasound and surgery may be required to find internally embedded quills.
  • Pulling quills out is risky - quills break off easily, and "tenting" of the skin while pulling out quills may bury nearby quills, making them almost impossible to remove.

5. Tell us about your dog's experience with porcupine quills

Quills have one-way barbs and may work themselves inside the body, causing severe problems and even death in some cases. It is always best to call your veterinarian for cases like this; removed quickly under anesthesia reduces the chances of quills working in deeper.

Please share your dog's story of meeting up with a porcupine and how things turned out.

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