As the days get longer and warmer, we shed our outer layers, emerge from the comfort of our homes, and venture out into nature with dogs in tow. Although we may be careful to stick to paths and steer clear of wild animals, dogs are often more curious. In their wanderings, they may encounter a veritable foe – the porcupine.
In most cases, dogs are inquisitive about this “friend” or their prey drive kicks in and they can’t keep from attacking. Porcupines have developed a highly sophisticated defense mechanism – their backs are covered with thin, needle-like quills that release on contact. The quills easily penetrate soft tissues, causing the aggressor to retreat. The porcupine, now safe, may go about its business, re-growing its lost quills for the next time someone gets too close. The quills are certainly effective in protecting the porcupine, but unfortunately, may seriously harm or even kill the victim.
Porcupine attacks can vary from a few quills to several hundreds. The quills are typically lodged in the face, neck, chest, and shoulders. There are often quills in the mouth and nose, and occasionally the eyes may be affected. The quills stay lodged in the tissues long after the porcupine encounter, migrating deeper, instead of outwards like a sliver would. This causes tissue trauma, pain, and infection.
What to do if your dog is attacked by a porcupine?
- Keep your dog calm – your dog will want to paw its face in an attempt to remove the painful quills. However, in doing this, he is likely to break the quills or lodge them deeper.
- Do NOT remove the quills yourself or cut the quills. Porcupine quills have microscopic barbs that cause pain upon removal. If a quill is broken or cut, it can be lost in the deeper tissues, making the veterinarian’s job in removing them much more difficult, and sometimes impossible. Dogs can also have lifelong face handling fears from having quills removed without sedation.
- Bring your dog immediately to a veterinarian. Call ahead so that the team can prepare for your arrival and help the process to flow as smoothly and quickly as possible for you and your canine companion.
At Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital
Your dog will be examined to assess the severity of the attack and to ensure your dog can safely handle the sedation. Your dog will then be sedated with a combination of drugs that also provides pain relief. Removing quills is an uncomfortable procedure and sedation allows your veterinarian to effectively remove them in a humane manner. The quills are removed by gripping them close to the skin with hemostats (surgical instrument) and gently pulling. The mouth, tonsils, ears, eyes, and limbs are all examined for quills. Once the veterinarian feels that all quills have been removed, the dog is allowed to wake from its sedation. Unless very mild, pain medication will be sent home.
If treated promptly after the attack, most dogs will not require antibiotics. However, if the quills are allowed to fester, infection will occur and antibiotics will be needed.
What if I don’t bring my dog to the vet?
Porcupine quills will not simply fall out over time. Due to their pointed structure and backwards facing barbs, they will continue to push deeper into the tissue. The body reacts by trying to break down the quills, bringing white blood cells (pus) to form around them. As quills move deeper over time, they cause pain. They may even penetrate important organs and structures – quills may be found months to years later in the lungs, heart, and abdominal organs, compromising their function and potentially causing death. Even waiting only a few days to see a veterinarian is enough time for the quills to move under the skin, making it difficult to locate and remove them. Costly procedures using ultrasound or CT may be required to locate and attempt to remove deep quills.
Most dogs that are seen by a veterinarian immediately after a porcupine attack and have the quills removed have no lasting complications. Should you have any questions regarding porcupine attacks or any other condition affecting your pet, do not hesitate to contact the Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital at 403-342-6040.
Written By: Dr. Rebecca Jackson