Porcupine Quills in Dogs … Oh My!

A few good things to know about porcupine encounters with your dog

porcupineAs spring is turning into summer, you may pleasantly find yourself spending more time with Rover walking in natural areas, dog parks, and camping. Such lovely activities sometimes bring not-so-lovely encounters with our spiny friend, the porcupine. With such encounters, some dogs will learn their lesson on the first go around with quills, but, believe it or not, some are repeat offenders!

The porcupine: Porcupines do not hibernate and are active year-round (much less so in the winter months). They are nocturnal animals but can be found out and about during the day, especially in warmer months. As they are a small animal with slow movements, they become very fascinating targets of inspection for a dog sniffing curiously through the brush or grass. Porcupines do not throw their quills, but are quite capable of releasing hundreds on contact with a perceived predator.

Rover and the porcupine: Generally, there are two types of dogs who get quilled…

Type 1: The “Cautious Sniffer” who gets a bit too close to have a peek at this fun looking puffy playmate. The result is often 10-20 quills in their muzzle, possibly including their tongue. After the unfortunate event, everyone goes their separate ways, with many dogs learning a valuable life lesson!

Type 2: The “I Must Kill the Porcupine” dog. These are the ones that fight the porcupine, chew on it, stomp on it, try to eat it and possibly roll on it afterwards. These dogs may not learn a lesson and often become repeat offenders with more quills each time.

quills in dogQuill removal: Regardless of how severe the quills are, they are painful and are best removed under sedation by your local veterinarian. Each quill has tiny barbs on it to allow it to stay imbedded, and this can lead to migration of the quill. Migration into the chest, abdomen, joints, eyes, or vital organs may occur, potentially causing significant health problems, and (rarely) death. It is therefore important to remove all quills if possible. Note that animals who have been quilled will sometimes break off the quills themselves, leaving the barbed end embedded in their skin. It is advised to have your pet seen as soon as you are able to have the quills properly removed.

Be cautious of what you may find about quill removal on the internet, as some websites encourage cutting the quills to “release pressure” or “deflate” the quills. Quills do not hold pressure nor do they deflate, please do not cut the quills short before bringing the dog in for quill removal. Cut short, there is simply less to grasp to properly remove the quill, and can lead to missed quills because they are more difficult to find!

Hopefully Rover (and you) never deal with an encounter with one of these prickly critters! If you do, here’s to hoping Rover is the “Type 1” dog!


Dr. Foster has over 19 years of experience practicing Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of MacTaggart Veterinary Clinic in southwest Edmonton.