Porcupine Quills in a Dog: What You Need to Know

Porcupines are small mammals that reside in North America and are very present in the Rutland, VT area. They weigh between 15 and 35 pounds, are nocturnal, have poor eyesight, and a great sense of smell. These herbivores eat fruit, nuts, twigs, and buds.

porcupine quills in a dog

During the summer months, they’re more likely to come out of their dens before sundown due to the longer daylight hours. This is usually when dogs get into some trouble. So, here’s what you need to know in case your dog gets into trouble with porcupine quills.

How Porcupine Quills Work

When porcupines defend themselves, they don’t actually shoot out their quills like most people believe. The quills are barbed on the end and when they make contact with something the porcupine feels is threatening, they quickly release and attach to the enemy.

They will also use their tail that’s covered with quills like a club. Because of these barbed ends, the quills dig deep into the skin and are difficult and painful to remove. In fact, the quill is actually a hair that’s covered with a protein keratin to make them hard and sharp.

When Porcupine Quills and a Dog Collide…

Some might wonder, “why is my dog even interested in porcupines in the first place?” One big reason that certainly causes dogs to head their way is because porcupines heavily rely on scent marking, so their back ends are very interesting and intriguing to our dogs’ noses.

If your dog encounters a porcupine, there’s no chance that he’s coming out the winner. Once the quills are embedded in your dog’s body, it’s time to jump into action. Your pup is likely in a significant amount of pain but it’s important to keep them from messing with the quills. This only drives them further into the tissue.

Do not let your dog paw at the quills or run them against a wall or anything else. Most of the time, quills will be in your dog’s muzzle or around the neck, but they can get anywhere. Make sure you’re aware of the location of all the quills to help immobilize them.

Who Should Remove Porcupine Quills from Your Dog?

Quill removal is not something you can do on your own, so the vet should be called first thing. If it’s after hours, you should not wait until morning and should go to an emergency vet.

Do not try and cut the quills to make it easier to remove them or to keep your dog from messing with them. This will only make it worse. Once the quills are cut, they are much more likely to splinter and this makes them more difficult to remove.

Act Fast to Get the Quills Out of Your Dog

A porcupine’s quills are likely to be covered in bacteria which can cause infection and abscesses. The longer the quills are embedded in your dog, the further into the tissue they move in. And, the deeper they go, the more likely abscesses will form and complications will ensue. Porcupine encounters that aren’t treated quickly and properly can even be fatal.

The Process of Removing Quills from a Dog

In order to remove the quills, your vet will need to administer either a heavy sedative or anesthesia to your dog. That way, he can’t lash out and mistakenly bite the vet during the procedure.

It can take hours to remove all the quills depending on the severity of the attack. Each porcupine is equipped with 30,000 quills, so they aren’t shy with them.

You Might Need More Than One Vet Visit

There is a chance that your vet will not be able to remove every piece of quill. Some will break off or will be too deep to remove. It’s important to monitor your pet over the coming weeks to make sure that no infections of abscesses are forming. Some of the pieces or quills will start to “migrate” because of the barbed ends.

They can poke into your dog’s eye, bury into a joint, or puncture the brain or other organs. This can be a life-threatening situation so it’s crucial to pay attention to your dog and to go back to the vet if necessary.

Even if your vet was able to get all of the quills out, you should still monitor your dog over the next few weeks to make sure that he isn’t showing signs of infection or any other issues. If he is, call the vet and go in for a check.

Tips to Avoiding Porcupine Quills

In order to avoid an attack all together, it’s a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and where you let your dog wander. During the summer, it’s best to avoid letting your dog roam in wooded areas at dusk or dawn because that is a time when porcupines are active.

There is an uptick of cases during the summer months as the days get longer. The most effective preventative measure is to keep your dog on a leash in the evening and early morning so that you can control any encounters he may have with local wildlife.

Get Help Right Away for Porcupine Quills in Your Dog

Just like with other wildlife, porcupine encounters do happen. It’s important not to panic and to be prepared. Your veterinarian is fully equipped to deal with quill removal, and you should take your dog in urgently.

Remember to not let your dog mess with the quills and to not touch them yourself. Once removed, monitor for infection or abscesses. Once your dog is fully healed, try and keep him on a leash and out of the woods. Most dogs don’t learn from the first porcupine attack, so they need to be removed from the situation.

At Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center, we know that porcupines are a common animal in the wild and have dealt with plenty of cases where a porcupine attacks a dog. We’re more than prepared to help your dog in case they get stuck with porcupine quills. Don’t hesitate to call us if this ever happens to your pup!

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Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center provides top-quality veterinary care to the Rutland, VT pet community.