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Porcupines have more than 30,000 quills they can brush off when they feel under attack. That means that dogs will never come out on the winning end of a porcupine encounter — even if your dog was more curious than aggressive toward the prickly creature. If you encounter a situation where your dog has been stuck by porcupine quills, what are you to do?
Prickles Are for Professionals
Porcupine quills are designed to maximize damage. They are the animal's defense mechanism, after all. Each of the quills is equipped with tiny barbs on the end, much like an arrowhead or a fishhook. When it goes into the skin it's difficult and painful to pull out.
Because of that, pet owners should not try to remove the quills themselves, advises River Road Veterinary Clinic. Along with dogs, River Road Clinic has treated cats, horses, sheep and a bull that have all come out on the wrong end of an encounter with a porcupine.
If your dog comes home with a muzzle full of quills, you should take him to the vet immediately for treatment. Your pup will likely be in significant pain. That pain will cause him to paw at the quills, which could drive them in further or break them off, thus making them harder to extricate. In addition, the longer the quills stay in a dog's body, the more rigid and brittle they become — making them more difficult to remove.
Because of the potential for a scared and hurting dog to bite or lash out, and depending on the number of quills, your vet will likely use an anesthetic to numb your dog's pain before removing the quills. In addition, River Road Veterinary Clinic says that your vet will likely also treat your dog with a rabies vaccination booster, as porcupines are a known carrier of the disease. They may also prescribe antibiotics to lessen the chances of infection.
Quills Can Cause Internal Damage
Because of their barbs, porcupine quills can get stuck in a dog's soft tissue can move deeper into the body if they're not removed right away. The more the dog moves, the more likely quills are to break and travel further into his face or paws. Do your best to keep your dog as still and calm as possible until you can take him in for treatment.
Quills can even enter joints, harm internal organs, or cause abscesses, Lucerne Veterinary Hospital warns. If your vet can't be reached right away after a porcupine encounter, taking your pup to an emergency clinic could save his life. The vet might perform an ultrasound to locate and attempt to remove deep quills, especially in cases where a dog wasn't seen immediately after the attack.
Minimize the Chances of a Porcupine Encounter
To minimize the chances of a dog getting stuck by porcupine quills, you should know the habits of porcupines. These gentle, cat-sized herbivores eat exclusively plants, fruit, and tree bark and they often nap during the day in burrows or hollow logs, says the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center. Porcupines are primarily nocturnal animals, so it's smart to prevent your dog from going into heavily wooded areas between dusk and dawn that might be a porcupine habitat.
Keep your pet away from places that you know porcupines frequent, especially if you suspect there might be a den. One study in the Canadian Veterinary Journal of 296 dogs that were seen by a vet after a porcupine tussle showed a marked increase in prickly encounters in the spring and fall.
Your best bet is to keep your dog on a leash and be aware of his surroundings to avoid any interactions with local wildlife. If your dog does come in contact with a porcupine, get him to the vet right away for the best chance of a quick recovery.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.