Porcupines are most active during the warmer spring, summer, and fall months, and releasing their quills is their primary mode of defense against surprise encounters. Porcupines do not “shoot” their quills, but release them from the skin once they are imbedded elsewhere. Your dog may encounter porcupines while out on a hike in the woods, or even right around your house, depending on where you live. It is very common for curious dogs to get their faces, ears, even the rest of their bodies imbedded with porcupine quills. We have also treated cats, horses, sheep and a bull.
Quills have tiny barbs on them so that when they go in, they stay in, and are difficult and painful to pull out. If there are a lot of quills, please do not try to remove the quills yourself , either by pulling on them, or by cutting off the ends. There are many websites and blogs that advise cutting the quills in order to release pressure and make them easier to remove- this is not true. Cutting the ends off the quill only makes the exposed portion smaller and more difficult if not impossible to remove. There are likely to be many quills inside the mouth and other hard to find areas; quills or parts of quills that remain imbedded under the skin can cause medical problems later on.
If your dog has more than a few quills you should bring it in to see a veterinarian right away; it is an emergency. The dog is in pain; and many dogs will paw incessantly at the quills to stop the pain, thus breaking the quills and making them harder to extract. At River Road Veterinary Clinic, we use a gentle anesthetic drug that enables us to pull quills while your dog is asleep and pain free. This IV anesthetic acts very quickly and can be easily reversed after the quills have been extracted. In most cases the procedure takes less than an hour and the dog is able to return home the same day.
In some cases antibiotics are prescribed to combat potential infection. If the ends of the quills are broken off they can sometimes become stuck beneath the skin. In this case if the quill is easily located the veterinarian may make a small incision in the skin with a scalpel in order to remove the quill. Quills left beneath the skin have potential to cause infection and migrate to other areas of the body such as the lungs or heart where they can cause serious damage.
Due to the prevalence of rabies in our area if your dog comes in contact with a porcupine they should be boostered with a rabies vaccine. Even if your dog is up-to-date on their rabies vaccine it is still highly recommended that he/she be given a booster. Vaccines are not 100% effective, but rabies is a 100% fatal disease.
River Road Veterinary Clinic always recommends that if your dog gets into porcupine quills they should be brought to see the veterinarian. Removing quills without sedation is painful, there is also a risk of infection and rabies associated with getting quilled. If you choose not to bring your dog to see the veterinarian please be sure to look him/her over thoroughly, taking care to check between the pads of the feet, on the legs, chest, face, and mouth. The best method for at-home quill removal involves using needle-nosed pliers and applying gentle steady backward pressure until the quill is completely removed. You should have a helper to properly restrain the dog as it is usually quite painful.