Porcupines - The Prickly Kitties
written by: Kevin Benoit, DVM
Porcupines are the third largest rodent, indigenous to the America’s, Africa and southern Asia. Their weight ranges from 12-35lbs. They are large, round and slow, well-camouflaged herbivores. In North America they often climb trees to find nutrient-rich leaves. Porcupines are generally nocturnal foragers; they look for their food at night. Porcupines do not hibernate but sleep a lot and stay close to their dens in the winter.
As a result of their nocturnal nature, the increased foraging in preparation for winter and the increasing activity following a long winter, most cases of pets with porcupine quills are seen in the evening and in the spring and fall. They have no good reason to chase your dog but will defend themselves, their den and their offspring if they feel threatened.
Porcupine quills are actually modified hairs covered in layers of keratin, a protein which builds hairs (horses hooves and your fingernails are made of the same stuff). At the tip of the quill are scales of keratin which act like the barbs of a fish-hook. They go in easily but are hard to get out!
Another very common misconception is if you cut the quill it will deflate and be much easier to pull out. This is not at all true and in fact, makes the quills much harder for your veterinarian to remove, as there is less to grab onto.
What do I do if my dog gets “quilled”:
What happens when I bring my pet to the emergency hospital for porcupine quill removal?
What happens if not all the quills can be removed?
Those which are lost can migrate. They may move deeper into the body and affect any organ, causing a variety of clinical signs. They can move into tendons and joints causing infection and pain.
My pet just had quills removed. Should he be on any medication?
Antibiotics are sometimes used, but there is very rarely infection, even in severe cases.
How can I avoid a confrontation between my dog and a porcupine?
Though having a confrontation with a porcupine is very rarely fatal for your pet, it is still very uncomfortable and can result in health complications. This should be considered an emergency and should be addressed by a veterinarian as soon as possible.