Beware of Prickly Cats! – Porcupine Pointers for Pet Owners

It’s that time of year again – porcupine season.  Based on the number of dogs we have treated at Sault Ste. Marie Animal Clinic for quills, there seems to be no shortage of the pesky critters around this year!  If your pet should happen to encounter a porcupine, here are a few things to remember:

  1. Porcupines do not “attack” dogs nor do they throw quills from their tails at innocent bystanders.  We are always slightly amused when people call and say their dog has been attacked by a porcupine – most porcupines are minding their own business when they encounter a dog!  How many quills your dog ends up will depend on your dog’s behaviour more than the porcupine.  Some dogs will cautiously attempt to sniff the porcupine and end up with just a few quills in the nose.  Some will attempt to bite the porcupine and will end up with quills in the face, lips, gums, tongue and hard and soft palate.  Other dogs will attempt a full body tackle and end up with quills in the mouth as well as legs, feet and chest.  Some dogs learn after one encounter to avoid porcupines in the future but others will be repeat offenders – often getting more and more aggressive with each encounter!
  2. Cutting the quills does not let the air out and make them easier to remove! Trust us – doing this only makes the quills much harder to find and allows many more quills to become buried under the skin.
  3. Quills have a barbed end which means the longer they are in the skin the further they will migrate under the skin making it much more difficult to find and remove them.  Quills require a firm tug to be removed and this is not only painful but all that tugging can be traumatic to surrounding tissues  – it is much easier to do this quickly and with minimal trauma if the patient is anesthetized.  Quills not plucked out may fester and fall out on their own in time but they can also migrate all over the body (eyes, joints, muscles, chest, and nervous system) causing very serious problems.
  4. It is generally best to seek veterinary attention as soon as you notice your dog has quills – most dogs will require sedation or general anesthesia to properly find and remove the quills.  Attempting to remove them yourself can end up with quills breaking off under the skin and the longer you wait the more swollen and inflamed the tissues become – making it much harder to find and remove the quills.  If your dog encounters a porcupine at night or on a weekend please contact the emergency service.

quills 2Sometimes even with prompt treatment, it is impossible for us to find and remove all of the quills at the time of initial presentation.  If we suspect that there are quills broken off or buried under the skin, we may put your dog on an antibiotic and tell you to watch for quills festering and rising to the surface.  Your dog may need to be re-evaluated if he or she develops localized swelling, starts to limp or experiences anything else out of the ordinary.

One final pointer – most porcupine encounters take place when dogs are running loose, in a rural to semi – rural environment, at night and when dogs are running together- it might be a good idea to keep your dog tied or on a leash when in “Porcupine Country”.

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