Dogs love to run, play and explore. Their rambunctious ramblings and curiousity may well be some of your favorite attributes about your pet. Personally, I love to watch my dogs off-leash in the countryside where they can run free, roll around and really live life to it’s fullest, even if it’s only for a few hours each week. While we love to let them roam and investigate new places and things, there is always the possibilty that they may run into something unfamiliar or even dangerous in the wild frontier. A single encounter with today’s creature of topic can result in a face full of painful pricks. not to mention anguish (yours and your dogs) and the potential for a hefty vet bill. Let’s talk a little about the prickly porcupine.
Understanding Porcupine Defense
It’s important to understand that porcupines aren’t malicious or mean. They’re actually solitary and timid, and they simply prefer to be left alone. Unfortunate incidents occur when your curious and excitable pet comes across an unsuspecting and shy little porcupine, looking for the opportunity to play with or pester the little guy for all it’s worth. The porcupine uses his only defense; exposing as many as many of his 30,000+ sharp quills to deter the potential threat.
Quills are actually specialized hairs plated on the tips with tiny keratin barbs. The quills are solid at the tip and base and hollow for most of the shaft, and they are all over the porcupine’s body except for its stomach. The porcupine cannot shoot its quills, contrary to popular belief. When a threat approaches, the porcupine turns its back and raises or exposes the quills. First the animal will shake the quills, creating a rattling sound as a warning. Porcupines also emit a noxious odor to further warn a potential attacker. If these attempts fail, the porcupine backs quickly toward the predator. When the quills touch the skin, they become embedded in the pet’s flesh and pull out of the porcupine. Body heat makes the barbs expand and they become even more deeply embedded in the animal’s skin as your pet moves and struggles to get them out.
What to do
So what do you if your beloved pet comes home with a face full of quills? Obviously he or she will not be happy about the predicament they’re in. Your first instinct may be to panic, because visually it will look as unpleasant as it feels for your dog. The important thing is for both of you to keep calm. If you panic or become excitable, your dog will probably mirror that behavior. You want to keep your pet as still and calm as possible to prevent the spines from imbedding more.
Assess the situation. How many quills do you see? Are they all in fleshy spots, or does your dog also have spines in his mouth, throat, eyes, abdomen or other vital areas? If there are just a few quills, not too deeply embedded, all in easy to access spots, and in areas where there is little potential for more serious penetration, you may consider removing them yourself. This will also depend on your dog’s temperament. If there are deeply embedded quills, quills in delicate areas with the potential to cause more serious problems, or if your dog is not calm enough to address the situation yourself, call your vet right away.
Before you begin, you should understand that removing quills isn’t always easy and there is always risk involved. Quill tips may break off easily or pulling action may force nearby spines further into the tissue. Quills or quill tips left in the skin have the potential to cause abcesses, or even in severe rare cases, fatalities. If you decide you proceed on your own, you may want to put something over your pet’s eyes to keep him more calm. You’ll need a tool, whether a hemostat, needle nose pliers, or a similar apparatus and topical antibiotic to treat the punctures. Don’t use your fingers to remove spines–you may end up with the spine embedded in you!
Trim any longer spines to about an inch from the skin’s surface. Grip each spine individually, and with firm yet gentle movement pull the spine quickly, straight out of it’s entry point. Use caution not to twist or pinch the hollow spine, as it may likely break off if you do so. Continue with each spine, closely inspecting the removed quill and the removal location to be sure the entire thing is out. Cleanse the punctures with soap and water and treat them with topical antibiotic. Be sure to check the wounds frequently over the next few days, watching for signs of infection (discharge, redness, swelling) and/or missed quills.
If you have any doubts about removing quills on your own, if any were broken or missed, or if an area seems infected, contact your vet–better safe than sorry, after all! Your vet will likely use anesthesia to relax your dog’s muscles and keep him still. He’ll then remove the spines and disinfect the the wounds as you would at home. Your dog will be probably be home with you in just a few short hours, though severe cases may require x-rays, ultrasound or even surgery to find deeply embedded quills.