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There’s just something about huskies when they see a porcupine. Every husky we’ve had out here has gotten quilled at least once. Ronan especially hates them, I’ve had to pull quills out of him twelve times! Since I’m now an unwilling expert at this, I thought I’d write out a few tips in case anyone else’s dogs won’t leave porcupines alone.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet.
The first thing to know is that porcupine quills hurt! Your dog is very likely to struggle during the removal process, potentially making things worse. This also means there is potential for getting bit. Even the best behaved dog might bite when in pain. Imagine having a fishhook yanked out of you, because porcupine quills are barbed in much the same way.
A veterinarian would administer local or general anesthetic before attempting to remove the quills. However, if like me you can’t always get to a vet, attempting removal yourself is better than allowing the quills to break off under the skin. Due to the barbs on the shaft, broken quills will work deeper into the body rather than working out. They can cause damage to joints, organs, and cause abscess or infection.
The best way to deal with porcupine quills is to avoid them all together.
Since porcupines are usually nocturnal, keeping dogs from wandering at night will prevent many encounters. Avoiding areas where there are known dens or young will also help. Porcupines also stink and rattle, so they are easy to avoid during walks if the dog is leashed. They can’t shoot their quills, so dogs will need to come in direct contact with them to be injured. Unfortunately, some dogs, like ours, will never learn to leave them alone. Even after being quilled multiple times!
Many veterinarians have emergency after hours phone numbers.
If a dog has too many quills, impaired breathing, swelling or is unconscious vet care should be sought. Sometimes animals can go into shock after being injured, and removal of quills is painful and can be traumatic. Professional care will also be needed for quills in or near eyes, or in the mouth and throat. As many times as I’ve removed quills myself, I’ve also taken dogs in for removal. It’s not cheap (about $300 here), but better than leaving quills to fester and cause larger problems later. A veterinarian may also have suggestions, such as giving a dog benadryl or another medication you have on hand to help calm the dog, if they are unavailable.
Tip One: Proper Tools
To remove quills from a dog, there are a few things you need. Needle-nose pliers, (sanitized) tweezers, antiseptic (Amazon link), and treats. If there are no quills in the dog’s face, a muzzle may be used to prevent biting. I’ve been extremely lucky so far and have yet to be bitten during this process, though a few dogs have been a little “mouthy”.
Tip Two: Clipping The Quills – Do or don’t?
Now there are two sides to this tip. Clipping quills will deflate them slightly, making them easier to remove. The flip side is that sometimes clipping can splinter the quill, making it harder to pull out. And if the dog isn’t willing to hold still for removal, getting in there twice as many times to clip quills just isn’t practical. However, if you end up with a quill or two in your hand (or foot!) clipping the very farthest end will make removing them easier and less painful. Often, many of the quill ends will break during the initial swat, anyway. Or when the dog paws at them due to the pain and irritation. My personal verdict is to skip the clip.
Tip Three: Feeling For Quills
Yeah, you’re probably gonna get poked during this. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and use antiseptic on any cuts you have.
Since my dogs are huskies quills blend in with their fur really well. Finding them all by sight alone is impossible, especially in longer fur. Gently running my hand against the grain of the fur helps me find quills I may have missed by sight. Also, gently spreading the paws and feeling in between the toes is helpful. Depending on the temperament of the dog, swiping along the gum line or feeling the nose for pricks and bumps could also be done. Ronan will let me do almost anything to find and remove quills as long as I talk to him. My other dogs have been less helpful with the process.
Tip Four: Distractions
If the dog allows, covering his eyes with a hand or cloth will stop a lot of the jerking around they do. Again, these are basically fishhooks that are being pulled out. Not pleasant at all! Most dogs will try to keep you from touching them where they are injured. Not being able to see helps keep them still.
Another way to distract the dog is to have a trusted person pet and talk to them during removal. I often take lots of breaks to pet and reassure my dogs. I’ll even pet with the pliers in my hand (and let them sniff them). It helps keep them from being afraid every time the pliers move towards them. This makes quickly grabbing and pulling quills easier.
The best distraction I’ve found so far is peanut butter. Often quills end up in the legs, paws, and face. Convincing a dog to stay laid down while you yank on quills isn’t easy. Putting a spoonful of peanut butter on the floor just at tongues’ reach is a great at diverting their attention. Just expect a sticky floor afterwards!
Tip Five: Be Fast
Pulling out quills can be traumatic for the dog, as well as being painful. The faster they are out the sooner they will feel better, and the less chance the dog has of breaking them off under the skin. Quills should be firmly grasped with pliers as close to the base as possible, then removed in one smooth pull. Twisting of the pliers or dog during this can potentially break quills, so they must be pulled quickly. Sanitized tweezers can be used to dig broken pieces out if it happens. The longer a dog has to sit still to be poked and pulled while hurting, the more likely there is to be twisting or nipping. Having a second set of hands to hold the dog steady during will help immensely.
Don’t forget to treat all those little wounds after removing the porcupine quills! Using an antiseptic such as Blu Kote (Amazon link) is a good option. Keep an eye out for swelling, abscess, or signs of infection during the next few weeks. Because porcupine quills can carry bacteria, an antibiotic prescription from a vet may be needed if these occur.
See more: What Is The Measure Of An Exterior Angle Of A Regular Octagon?
And last but not least:
Make sure your dog is up to date on his rabies vaccination! Porcupines can carry rabies and transmit it to dogs. While quilling itself won’t transmit the virus, body fluids from the porcupine will have dozens of wounds to enter. It also may be hard to visibly see a bite wound among all the quills, especially as they can cause bleeding when removed.
Hopefully you never need to de-quill your fur babies, but here’s an extra video how-to just in case!