Our dogs are so lucky. Their home is a 50 acre farm and most of the time, they are off leash. We love it and they love it, but it has come with a price through the years. There are unforeseen dangers lurking in the forest and hidden in the brush that we tend to ignore or completely forget about altogether while we are happily walking along.
I was initially writing a comprehensive post which dealt with the many dangers to our pets in the great outdoors. But as I wrote, the post became longer and longer. Unfortunately, there are more perils then I initially thought once I started to write them all down! I even started to re-think the wisdom of continuing to walk my pets off leash, even on our own property. But I still do it. So I decided to devote individual posts to some of the more common outdoor perils, as these often involve a few stories from personal experience. This one happens to be about a chance encounter with the dreaded porcupine.
A bit about them…
A porcupine is mainly nocturnal but does often spend his days foraging for food. They can have up to 30,000 quills which will easily fall off them and into your pet. He does not hibernate, which I was surprised to find out, as I was under the impression that we were safe from them in the winter. If you see a trail in the snow like the one here, beware, a porcupine is near!
They can often be found in trees and do, on occasion, fall from the trees and onto their own quills. Nature has equipped the quills with a natural antibiotic so in case they quill themselves, the area will, hopefully, not become infected. I found this little known fact fascinating!
Yes, it’s happened to our pets
We found some pictures from a few years back of our dog’s experience with a mature porcupine. This happened on a leisurely Sunday walk in the public park just north of us. The porcupine was hiding under an old rotted log, but the dogs knew better and tried to flush him out. Two out of three of our dogs ended up with quills and after a painful walk out of the park to the car, we rushed them to the emergency clinic.
When we got there, we were pleasantly surprised to be placed fairly high up on the triage. We found out there is always the danger of a quill working it’s way deeper inside the body and puncturing internal organs. However, this did not sit well with one of the clients who was waltzing around the clinic with a sample of her dog’s poop in a plastic bag. We received some nasty stares and complaints to the staff as to why our dogs were a priority over her poop sample.
And then there was the Asian man in the waiting room who kept pointing at our dogs and smiling. The dog were obviously in pain so we weren’t sure why he was amused until he nodded knowingly and said “acupuncture”. We looked at him incredulously, thinking he was joking and tried to explain what had happened. We still aren’t sure if he understood the real problem.
But it could have been much, much worse. There are hundreds of pictures on the internet that I cringe to look at, like the one below.
Removal of the Quills
You must treat your pet ASAP! Due to the extreme pain your pet will be in, a visit to your local vet or emergency clinic is in order. You can see from the pictures of our dogs, that they are obviously not happy about the situation. After their quilling, both dogs were lethargic and their eyes were only partially open. Needless to say, we felt terrible for them. Your pet will be in distress and may paw at the quills, which can embed them further or break them off altogether, making extraction even more difficult. Do not pull on the quills or cut them as they can shatter and cause more problems for your best friend. The quills have a “backwards” barb, which is why they stick so well to an animal’s body.
Your vet will sedate your pet in most cases and/or provide a pain reliever. If there are very few quills, it may be possible to remove them without sedation, however, your pet will be in pain and there is always the chance of a dog bite or the quill being forced deeper if the pet will not hold still for removal. If the pet is sedated, the vet can safely check the mouth and throat thoroughly for quills, which would otherwise be very risky, and remove the quills without your pet experiencing pain.
Due to the nature of the quills to migrate inwards, your vet may recommend x-rays and/or ultrasound. While we were at the emergency clinic, one of the veterinarian technicians told us a very sad story of a dog’s heart being fatally pierced by a quill. Internal organs can be put at risk, even in what may look like a minor quilling, as well as infections and abscesses can develop at the site of the puncture.
After removal, the area is usually disinfected, but generally not bandaged. Most pets make a full recovery, but, unfortunately, do not learn the lesson.
How to avoid
Dog will be dogs. Unless you keep your pets on a short leash at all times, there is always the possibility of a chance encounter. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any pictures of cats with quills – I’m sure it has happened, though.
One thing I discovered during my research on this post, is that porcupine quills are used to make many different decorative items. Some interesting items include unique jewellery pieces.
Who would have guessed?