It almost seems like an annual rite of the spring/summer season arriving – dogs and porcupines meeting up in the woods and usually, our canine friends end up on the wrong end. Quills in your dog can be ranging from very mild to some incredibly shocking sights.
You may be tempted to try and remove the quills on your own. Some people may try and just cut them off. I do not recommend that you try either methods for several reasons. Your dog may be in pain and could bite you as try to remove the quills. The quills are barbed which can cause additional discomfort, but it also makes them more likely to break off. Quills that break off can migrate through the body and enter organs or body cavities (such as the chest), causing significant infection or breathing problems. Chances are you won’t get them all and more problems can arise.
Particular areas of concern are the tongue and throat, the eyes, and joints. A quill to the eye can potentially lead to blindness, chronic pain, or other long-term issues and may result in the loss of the eye. Injuries to the tongue and throat can cause problems eating or breathing. Quills that migrate into the joint areas can result in significant lameness or joint infections requiring extensive care.
The best recommendation is to get them seen by the veterinarian, as we have your pet’s best interest as our priority. Most cases will benefit from sedation to remove all the quills and to make sure that any post-removal problems are avoided. Very typically, we will prescribe some anti-inflammatory pain medications and maybe some antibiotics for a few days.
A stunning case of quills gone crazy, was when Tessa came in to see us when I was working. Quite literally, the most quills any of us had ever seen! They were everywhere: face, legs, under the tongue, even in her eye. There was no way she could have been cared for without sedation, let alone stitching up her eye when the quills were removed, and it began to leak the fluid from inside. Despite the time we took, a few quills had already broken off and were still found to be migrating even a month later! Don’t worry; she’s all better now.
So remember, dogs and porcupines don’t mix. You may be tempted to address the problem at home, but your dog will likely resent it and experience more discomfort. It will be a lot easier and less traumatic if they are sedated at the vet and can have as many of the quills removed, without them knowing it happened.
Written by Dr. Ryan Llera, DVM