Reflexively, you jump a little and then boom! Your leg is full of little quills as you watch a spikey tuft ball scurry away. “Damn porcupine…” you mutter under your breath.
Now, this would be an annoying (and painful) situation for you… but, imagine how frightening that would be for your dog!
What are you supposed to do if your dog comes up to you, whining, with a face full of porcupine pricks?
Are you supposed to scream? Yes. Are you supposed to carefully pluck them out? No.!!
We’ll get more into this in the blog below!
Why Are Porcupine Quills Dangerous?
Porcupine quills, sometimes known as spines, can take on many forms depending on the species of porcupine. However, most quills are nothing more than hairs which are coated in a thick plate of keratin and then embedded within the skin’s musculature. They’re released by contact with an object and only require about half the force of a hypodermic needle to release.
On average, North American porcupines have about 30,000 quills across their entire body and each one is flanked by between 700 and 800 barbs. These barbs are likely the result of evolution, as they make it exceptionally difficult to remove the quill that they’re attached to and thus quills much more useful for defense.
Unfortunately, barbs also encourage the quill to move deeper into the target’s flesh the more that you tug at them. So, if you try to remove a quill and you aren’t a professional, you risk the chance of the quill penetrating into body cavities and possibly internal organs. Not only that, but quills carry bacteria with them so you actually run the risk of inviting infections or abscesses, too.
That being said, it’s not like you can just leave the quills in your dog, either. Porcupine quills will not just fall out over time. Instead, they’re more likely to wedge themselves deeper into your dog’s flesh (thanks to those barbs) the longer they’re left there.
Can I Remove Porcupine Quills from My Dog Myself?
No. Removing porcupine quills yourself is an extremely risky move and is likely to do more harm than good.
This is because removing porcupine quills from your dog without giving them the benefit of a general sedative or pain medication is going to make the removal process extremely painful for your pup. This will only increase the chance that your dog will struggle against your efforts and inadvertently push the quills in deeper.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that, if you’re just plucking the quills out and causing them immense pain, your dog very well may lash out and bite you without meaning to.
The long and short of it is that you should not, under any circumstance, conduct a quill removal on your dog unless you are a trained veterinarian with the proper tools and meds at your disposal.
How to Remove Porcupine Quills from Your Dog
So, your dog got quilled, huh?
Sigh. Alright, time to spring into action. First thing’s first: speed is the name of the game here, but so is safety.
Try and prevent your dog from fussing or touching their quills too much, as this will only cause them to burrow deeper. Also, do not touch the quills yourself if you can help it. Don’t cut them to “make removing them easier”, either; this only increases the likelihood of them splintering and thus more difficult to remove.
Once you’ve gotten your dog as calm as you can and can be reasonably assured they’re not going to paw at their quills, you need to take them to a veterinarian ASAP. Even if it’s after hours, you need to get them to a vet, so be ready to find an emergency vet who can take you.
After arriving at a vet’s office, they’ll likely want to administer either a heavy sedative or anesthesia to your dog so they can work without fear of being bitten or scratched. Now, all that’s left to do is wait for the vet to remove as many quills as possible.
Note that we said “as many as possible”. That’s because there’s a chance that some quills will simply be too far into the dog’s flesh to remove and will instead have to be monitored over the next few weeks to watch for signs of an infection or migration throughout the body.
Another thing to take note of is that your veterinarian might treat your dog with a rabies booster because porcupines are known carriers of the disease.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Porcupine Quills
It’s an unfortunate fact: your dog is very unlikely to learn from their mistake of being quilled.
That’s why it’s up to you to make sure that the chances of them encountering a porcupine in the first place are negligible. That starts with you learning more about porcupines and how they behave!
The first thing you should know is that porcupines are nocturnal creatures, so you’re most likely to encounter them at night. Additionally, the Canadian Veterinary Journal found that the majority of encounters that dogs have with porcupines happen in the spring and summer, which makes sense; that time of year it’s more temperate out at night so the porcupines feel more comfortable looking for food for longer hours.
You’re unlikely to ever find two porcupines together, either. The strength of their defensive mechanisms allows them to live without relying on strength in numbers as most herbivores have evolved to do.
In North America, porcupines tend to build their dens in rock crevices, hollow logs, under upturned trees, or in the cavities of trees. You’re likely to find porcupine scat on the outside of the den, which will look like mounds of light-brown pellets as is common for rodents.
What this means is that if you live on a property which is particularly laden with trees or rocks, you may want to think twice before letting Fido romp around at night. Just think about it– your dog is not going to know any of those facts about porcupines.
That’s why, in our opinion, your best bet to keep your dog safe from porcupines is to keep them on a leash between dusk and dawn and be extra careful to pay attention to your surroundings. And, if they do encounter a porcupine, just always remember: don’t try and take out the quills yourself, and instead get them to a vet ASAP.
Of course, porcupines aren’t the only woodland critter you need to watch out for. You’d also be wise to learn how to take care of your pets in the event they come into contact with less spikey, but still dangerous, creatures like skunks!
We know that, as a loving pet parent, you only want what’s best for your pup and to make sure they can continue living a happy, healthy, anxiety-free life. That’s why we hope you’ll keep visiting our dog page to learn more tips on how to keep your pooch worry-free!