Porcupines and skunks are primarily nocturnal animals that unleash nasty surprises on unsuspecting dogs and their humans. Skunk spray is mostly annoying, although it may have health effects at close range. Porcupines, on the other hand, have a much more severe weapon: quills.
Porcupine quills are commonly found embedded in the 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.
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 approach areas inhabited by humans for this mineral.
There are many different species of porcupines around the world. Their habitat ranges from grasslands to forests, to deserts.
The North American porcupine is one of the largest members of the rodent (Rodentia) family. Quills are off-white and black and are made out of keratin. Up to 30,000 quills cover the average North American porcupine.
Quills have very tiny one-way barbs along their shaft. This makes it is easy for quills to keep moving inward and very difficult to pull them out! Quills may puncture through skin and muscle to enter body cavities and even organs. Quills can 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 sedation reduces traumatic removal/quill breakage and allows for a more thorough and stress-free examination.
Throwing quills: Contrary to popular belief, the porcupine cannot "throw" its quills, but they are easily "let go of" by the porcupine and become embedded in animals who tangle with it.
Quills working their way out: Quills may work themselves out, but most often, they continue to work inward. I once treated a dog who was initially treated at home. The owners removed what quills they could, then figured the rest would work their way out. A few weeks later, we saw the dog with abscesses all over its 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 splinter.
If Your Dog Gets Quilled
- Minimize movement. Embedded quills may migrate in further with movement and become more difficult to remove.
- Call your veterinarian. Most often quills are removed in-office under sedation, and the dog is home the same day. Antibiotics and pain relievers may be given as well. For severe cases, x-rays, ultrasound, and surgery may be required to find and remove internally embedded quills.
- Pulling quills out at home is risky and painful. Quills break off easily, and "tenting" of the skin while pulling out quills may bury nearby quills, making them almost impossible to remove.