canadian-porcupine-381299_640Jenn Grenier, Burlington Emergency Veterinary Specialists- Williston, VT

It was a beautiful, summer day and I was out walking with my dog Shadow, soaking in as much Vitamin D as possible. All of a sudden, she came out of the bushes foaming at the mouth and franticly pawing at her face. She had what looked like a white beard, which could only mean one thing. Shadow had tangled with a porcupine! With the arrival of early spring, porcupines will soon be walking among our four-legged family members. Now is the time to brush up on our porcupine facts.

There are about 2-dozen different species of porcupine in the world. The species we’re most familiar with here in Vermont, is the North American Porcupine. They are typically 10-35 lbs and can have up to 30,000 quills on them at any one time. The word porcupine comes from the Latin for “quill pig”. The quills are solid near both ends and hollow for most of the shaft. At each end of the quill is a barb that acts like a fishhook. When threatened, the porcupine will turn its hind end to its attacker, tuck its head toward its stomach (where it does not have any quills), and leave its tail and backside exposed to defend itself against predators. When the barb comes into contact with flesh it easily detaches from the porcupine and hooks onto its attacker. Once attached to the skin, every time that skin moves, the quill’s barb moves through the skin and muscle with ease.

If you find yourself in this situation, here is how to proceed.

  • Do not panic.
  • Keep your dog as calm as possible. The more your dog paws at their face, the more likely they are to break off the quills.
  • Have your dog sit down, and hold their head up and away from their paws.
  • Locate the quills – most will hit the nose, mouth and lips. If your dog has quills in the neck or chest there is concern about it migrating further into the tissue. In these cases, please contact your veterinarian for further instruction.
  • Grab and pull using needle nose pliers getting as close to the skin as possible. If your dog is loaded with quills, sedation may be required and you should contact your veterinarian.
  • Disposal of the quills – Once you have removed the quills, wrap them in paper towel or newspaper and toss in the garbage.

The staff at BEVS is available by phone or in person any time, day or night. If you find yourself in a prickly situation involving quills, we would be happy to talk you through pulling the quills, or our staff can sedate your dog and pull them for you. Just give us a call, 863-2387.

Jenn Grenier is a member of our overnight veterinary nursing staff, and has been with BEVS since 2005. Jenn graduated from UVM with a degree in Animal Sciences, she began her career as a technician in 2000. In her spare time Jenn spends time riding her 2 horses and walking her pack of dogs.