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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Porcupine Quills View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

At about 18 inches tall, 3 feet long (including the tail), and up to 40 pounds, the porcupine is the bane of curious dogs (and rarely, cats). This vegetarian rodent is native throughout the Pacific Northwest and most of North America and is known for its unique fur coat.


If your dog ends up with a face that looks like a pin cushion or with quills stuck inside her mouth, she will need medical help to remove them all.


Porcupines don't throw their quills, but the spines are held only loosely in the skin and drop out when ejected by agitated skin or a lashing tail. If a curious dog happens to be on the receiving end of that tail, she will get a face full of quills, ranging in size from 1/2 inch to more than 4 inches long. Each quill has backward projecting scales near the tip that are designed to work their way deeper into the victims skin by her own muscle action. Left in place, a quill could enter a dogs nose and come out (eventually) at her shoulders (an example only) causing great pain along the way.


Diagnosis is made by physical examination.


Pulling out the quills takes care of the problem. If there are only a few, first aid may be all that is needed.

  1. Give her an antihistamine - Any foreign material stuck in the skin can prompt an allergic reaction, with swelling and pain. An over the counter antihistamine like Benadryl not only reduces the skin reaction and swelling, but also tends to make pets a bit drowsy, so it can calm them down. The liquid form of Benadryl usually comes in a dose of 12.5mg per teaspoon and pills are usually 25mg each. Pets will need 1mg per pound of body weight every 6 - 8 hours. That means a 10 pound cat or dog should get about 3/4 teaspoon of liquid or half a pill. Use a needle-less syringe or turkey baster to squirt the liquid to the back of your pet's tongue. Most of the time, the quills will be in or around your pet's mouth, so it may be hard to get a pill down. Try hiding the medicine in an irresistible treat, which may also help distract your pet from her discomfort. If you do manage to get the Benadryl down, give it about 30 minutes to take effect, but be aware that it wont make a very frightened pet who is also in pain very sleepy.
  2. Keep your pet still - It is best to have someone help you restrain your pet, but you can manage alone if necessary. Position a large dog in the corner of a room. Have her sit, and you should stand with one leg on either side of her to stabilize her chest with your knees. Use gloved hands to firmly hold your dog's head and muzzle. If you are restraining a cat or small dog, wear a heavy coat and wrap one arm around your pet's body, pressing firmly on the underside of her chest. Your pet should face toward the right if you are right handed. Firmly grasp your pet's muzzle with your other hand.
  3. Wear heavy gloves to remove quills - It is an old wives tale that cutting off a quill makes it easier to remove and the opposite is actually true. To remove a quill, put on a pair of heavy work or garden gloves and, using a hemostat (a long, thin clamp available from pet supply catalogs) or a pair of pliers, grasp the quill close to where it enters the skin. Use slow, even pressure to pull the quill straight out. Don't yank, or you could break it, which will then need to be surgically removed. Don't be surprised if your pet yelps - it is very painful. If she protests or struggles too much, it is more humane to let your veterinarian remove all the quills after giving your pet a sedative or short-term anesthetic.
  4. Look for hidden quills - If your pet has short fur and has been struck in the face, you will easily see most of the quills. However, longer haired pets may have quills hidden beneath the fur, and they can fester if not removed.To find them, carefully feel all over your pet's body several times. Go over the skin slowly in several directions. You will be looking for the blunt end of the quill because the sharp end is still in your pet. If you can't feel the quills, remove your gloves and carefully check again.
  5. Wash the affected areas - Once the quills are removed, wash the wounds with warm water and antiseptic liquid soap like Betadine Skin Cleanser, and rinse well. This will also help ease the pain of the punctures. Do this 2 or 3 times a day for 2 - 3 days. As long as all of the quill is removed, pets rarely develop infections from the quills because the spines are coated with a fatty acid that protects even the porcupine from infection due to an accidental jab.


Don't let pets free-roam through the woods.


If your dog still has pain after the quills are removed, you may give buffered aspirin like Bufferin. The usual dose is 10 - 25mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight 2 - 3 times a day. DO NOT give aspirin to cats.

Tiny quills or pieces of quills left in the skin may develop little abscesses as the body tries to eject them. As long as they are small (pin point size), you can pop them like pimples and dab antiseptic solution like Betadine on the wounds. Dilute it with distilled water to the color of weak tea. You can use this 2 - 3 times a day for 2 - 3 days. If the sores haven't cleared up in that time, take your pet to the vet.

Watch the wounds for several days after you've removed the quills if there is any swelling, redness, or discharge, your pet will need antibiotics from the vet.

Porcupine quills can break off and remain undetected. They will travel through the body to places such as the eyes, brain, and spine. Continue to watch your pet for several months after the injury for anything unusual. If anything happens, be sure to tell your vet that your pet had quills, because it may be related to her current problem.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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