Spring has finally sprung here in Grey Bruce! Everyone is heading outside to enjoy the sun and warm weather; everyone that is, including the dreaded porcupine. I love porcupines as much as all other animals, but I do occasionally curse them when I am pulling quills out of an unassuming German Shepherd at midnight. Now that spring is here and quill season is upon us, I thought I would share some facts and myths about porcupines that may help you avoid the midnight phone call.
First, porcupines are nocturnal creatures, meaning they prefer to only roam the world at night, although they can occasionally wander during the day to search for food. The average number of quills a porcupine has is 30,000 (until they meet your dog, then maybe its 29,500). Contrary to popular belief, a porcupine cannot throw its quills when threatened. Rather, they spin their tail/hind end around when afraid, which may then come in to contact with your pet.
Quills themselves can be angry little creatures. They all contain one-way barbs, which means they continue to move forward into your pet, and may be why you hear veterinarians discuss migrating quills. Quills can actually migrate at a rate of 0.5cm to 1 inch per hour! Quills can cause a variety of problems: infection, abscesses, pain and in some instances can migrate to areas of concern: joints, internal organs, eyes. Very rarely, quills can lead to death due to migration.
So what happens if your pet is unlucky enough to get quills? Here are some things to do and NOT do.
– Do NOT cut the tips of the quills. One of the common myths is that cutting quills will allow air to get in to them and cause them to come out easier. Actually, cutting quills can make them much, much more difficult to get out and often can allow the quills to quickly migrate and disappear under the skin. In some instances after they are cut, your veterinarian will be unable to see or feel them, and therefore cannot take them out.
-Do NOT apply Vaseline or other lubricant to the quills. This will not help the quills slide out, and can make it more difficult for your veterinarian to grab the quills with instruments used for removal.
-Do be careful of not getting poked yourself. Those quills hurt!
-Do NOT try pulling quills yourself at home. This may cause injury to yourself, or may cause your pet to develop fear aggression. These are very painful and your pet is often already upset. Also, some quills may be missed and left to migrate if your pet is not thoroughly checked over.
-Do contact your veterinarian when your pet encounters quills. This is often considered an emergency and your veterinarian will find a time to fit your pet in quickly for removal. Quill removal often requires sedation, and in some instances general anesthesia. Sedation or anesthesia is used as this helps your pet relax, which reduces the risk of traumatic removal or breakage of the quills. It also allows your pet to be carefully and thoroughly examined everywhere once all the quills have been removed. Quills are very sneaky and can hide in many places, and a thorough palpation can help track down these leftover quills. It is also important that the entire quill is removed, not just a portion. We also can prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication which help prevent infection and decrease pain for your pet.
-Do attempt to avoid confrontation with porcupines. Avoid treed areas at dusk, and if you have to walk at night, keep your dog on a leash.
-Do NOT allow your pet near a dead porcupine. They can pick up quills from dead porcupines just as easily as live ones.
-Do know that sometimes not all quills can be removed. Some have migrated deep into the skin and muscles before your pet arrives at the clinic. In some cases, we can make a small knick in the skin and try to chase the quill, but often times this is not successful.
Quills are an unpleasant experience, and hopefully your pet can enjoy the warmer months without having to go through this! However if they find themselves the unlucky candidate, please do not hesitate to contact us. And by all means, avoid those pestering porcupines!