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May 21, 2010

Porcupine Strikes Again!

This poor dog had a too-close encounter with a porcupine -- one of the more common reasons to see a dog at the clinic... (this and upset tummies). I thought we'd just share a few photos to show you what happens when you drop your dog off for quill removal.

After examination to assure us that the dog is in good enough health for anesthesia, we usually give the dog pre-anesthetic sedative and painkillers. A few minutes later, after the pre-anesthetics have taken affect, we will put your dog under general anesthesia.

As you can see in the above photo, there are often quills sticking all the way through the lip or tongue.... ouch!

Sometimes there are even quills so far back in the mouth that removal is a bit difficult.

Once your dog is fully anesthetized, here is how we remove the quills.... grab the shaft of the quill firmly with forceps, as close to the skin as possible, and PULL! Sometimes a dog will have so many quills that it will take 2-3 people working 20-30 minutes to pull all the quills. On quills that have broken off under the skin, we usually do not go in after (cut into the skin with a scalpel) because of the amount of trauma that would cause. Sometimes these quills will fester and become abscesses, sometimes they will just gradually disappear as the dog's body works to break them down.

Many quills later, and a bloody mess -- this dog is ready to wake up. We usually trim toe-nails and check the ears for foreign objects as well while the dog is still asleep. We usually send your dog home on oral antibiotics (and sometimes painkillers as well) because as you can imagine, those little quills are not the most sterile things in the world. You can expect the swelling in your dog's mouth and tongue to decrease quickly over the next couple of days.

Some questions we often get concerning porcupine quills:

  1. Is a case of porcupine quills an emergency? Yes and no. How's that for an answer? Yes, we would recommend you bring your dog in as soon as possible if your dog's mouth/face is full of quills. The sooner the quills are pulled, the better: less infection, less broken quills, and less chance the quills will end up in the dog's paws or in your hands as well. If your dog has just a few quills not located in it's mouth, then it is not such an emergency and you do not need to call in the middle of the night for quill removal (hint hint).
  2. I've always heard that porcupines throw their quills. Is this true? No, absolutely not. However, a porcupine is very good at flipping its tail around and when the tail makes contact, quills are left behind in the unsuspecting dog nose. Ouch!
  3. Do you have to cut the end off a quill to let the air out before you pull it? No. That is an old wives tale. It is not necessary to deflate the quills before removal. However, you could cut the ends off after removal if you wanted to make a quill necklace. We'll give you the quills back -- no charge.
  4. Can quills travel under the skin and through muscles? Yes. This can be especially troubling in cats as they tend to have pretty loose subcutaneous tissue. Luckily, cats and porcupines don't tend to have many interactions. We have seen the odd quill travel through tissues in the dog, especially so in quills that have lodged in the lower neck or shoulder (where the skin is loose). If there is a broken off quill in this area, we sometimes will incise over the quill and remove it just to lessen the chance of this.

I hope that answers some of your questions and provides you with a look behind the scenes of what happens when you bring your dog in for quill removal.