Porcupines are members of the rodent family. They are equipped with a coat of sharp quills along their back, sides and tail. This suit of armour protects them from predatory attacks. Porcupines are prevalent during the warmer months. They are nocturnal animals, which means they are most active during the night. They have the most encounters with dogs at dawn and dusk.
Porcupine quills are hollow stiff hairs made of keratin. Each quill has 700 – 800 backward facing barbs. These barbs allow the quill to penetrate their victim’s skin easily, but make them difficult to remove. Porcupines do not shoot their quills. Pressure applied to the quill, embeds it in the dog’s skin.
Dogs are inquisitive creatures and therefore most susceptible to porcupine attacks. The face and muzzle are most commonly quilled. However, it is also possible to see quills in other areas of the body, such as inside the mouth, chest and legs. Unfortunately, most dogs do not learn from their first encounters with porcupines, and can become repeat offenders.
Porcupine quills can migrate or break off underneath the skin. Pawing at the mouth or cutting the quill, allows the quill to bury itself beneath the skin. Small incisions are then required to remove the embedded quills. Time is of the essence; take your dog directly to the vet to reduce the incidence of migrating quills or abscesses caused by broken festering quills. Having quills pulled is painful. The barbed ends of each quill make every pull a painful event. Anesthesia prevents the pain and reduces the chance of quills being broken while being removed.
The best way to prevent encounters with porcupines, is to use a leash and avoid early morning or late evening walks. If this is not possible, avoid heavily wooded areas.
Written by: Margaret Parusel RVT