It's everyone's favourite time of year when the daylight is long, the trails are warm and dry(ish), and you can have fun outside with your dog all day and all night. The porcupines are just as excited about spring as the rest of us, and will soon start interacting with our canine friends on the trails.
Porcupine quills are one of the most common reasons we receive emergency calls in the summer. Quill accidents can vary from a couple quills in the nose of a curious dog, to over five hundred quills in the face, chest and legs of a dog with questionable judgment. After a decade of pulling quills out of dogs, I am convinced that sedation and/or anesthesia is the safest, most humane and most effective way to remove quills from dogs.
Removing quills without sedation means that it is more likely that quills will break off and then migrate deeper into the tissue, or that they will be missed altogether - sometimes only a millimeter or less of the quill protrudes, and these can be very difficult to find and remove without careful palpation and manipulation. While most of the time the consequences to leaving a quill or part of a quill behind are minimal, retained quills can cause abscesses or migrate to other parts of the body and cause problems in those locations. I have personally seen porcupine quills migrate into joint spaces, causing arthritis, and into the eye, causing severe eye trauma, and I've read about cases where retained porcupine quills have migrated into the abdomen, chest cavity, and even the heart. So whenever possible, we want to remove all of the quills in their entirety.
Sometimes situations arise where you can't easily transport a dog to a veterinary clinic to have porcupine quills removed. If you're in a situation where you have to remove quills by yourself, I recommend using a leatherman or needlenose pliers. Grasp the quill as close to the skin as you can, and pull the quill out with gentle, steady traction at the same angle that the quill enters the skin (ie the quill shouldn't be bending in any direction). If the quill is in an area of loose skin, use your fingers to help push the skinback down as you're pulling the quill out - if you allow the skin to be pulled up, that sometimes allows other quills in the area to get 'sucked' under the skin. Having quills removed is very uncomfortable for the dog, so ensure they can't bite you - you can wrap a shoelace or leash around their nose to act as a muzzle. Many dogs with a face full of quills will be too scared or painful to remove the quills safely, so prioritize your own safety and leave the quills alone if your dog is too anxious.
There is some misinformation about porcupine quills swirling around that we hear from time to time, including:
- cutting the ends of quills of allows them to deflate and makes them easier to remove
- porcupines can throw their quills
- waiting overnight allows the quills to soften, which makes them easier to remove - this is false! Soft quills that have stayed in a dog overnight are very fragile and much more prone to breaking and causing complications
- porcupine quills contain small amounts of venom
These are not true! If your dog has as porcupine encounter and you have any questions about what to do, please don't hesitate to call us.
And this is an awesome video of a very lovable porcupine who doesn't want to share his corn: