Spring is almost here, and with warmer weather comes the arrival of one of nature’s most epic battles: the clash between dogs and porcupines.
Unfortunately for dogs, this colossal conflict is one of the most lopsided matchups ever created. In almost every case, dogs get their fannies handed to them on a plate while the victorious porcupines waltz away, unscathed, ready to regale their porcupine buddies with tales of their prowess.
All kidding aside, these altercations can cause serious, and sometimes life-threatening, issues for dogs on the receiving end of an unlucky encounter with a porcupine.
Dogs And Porcupines: A Very Bad Combination
Porcupines are actually fairly easy going creatures. Their name loosely translated in Latin means “quill pig”, but they are really members of the rodent family. Porcupines can weigh up to 40 pounds, and are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. They make their dens out of tree branches, large tree roots, rocks, or piles of brush. They’re also nocturnal, preferring to forage for pine needles, bark, fruit, nuts, and bugs mainly during the hours between dusk and dawn.
Porcupines in North and South America are excellent climbers, and prefer to spend much of their time in trees. Some even have prehensile tails (like monkeys) that can grip tree branches to help them climb. When threatened, climbing a tree is a porcupine’s first line of defense. They’re not naturally aggressive, so like most wild animals, they will try to avoid conflict if at all possible.
Enter our enthusiastic dogs. In matchups between dogs and porcupines, dogs do NOT fare well. Unfortunately, this does not deter them in the slightest from going after porcupines like it’s their life’s mission (dogs also tend to do this with skunks for some reason).
Porcupines have soft hair, but on their tails, sides, and back, the hair is mixed with approximately 30,000 sharp quills up to 12 inches long. These quills typically lie fairly flat until a porcupine is threatened, at which point it may puff them out and shake its body to make them rattle as a warning.
Unfortunately, dogs don’t seem to have gotten the memo. When a dog charges and the porcupine has no time to escape, the porcupine will usually turn its back to the dog and lash out with its tail. The quills, which are loosely attached and have barbs on the end, detach from the porcupine’s skin and quickly penetrate the dog’s skin – usually in the dog’s face and mouth. (It’s a myth that porcupines can “throw” their quills; the quills are released when they make contact with another animal’s skin.) The backward-facing barbs on the quills quickly anchor themselves into the dog’s skin, gums, and tongue, making them extremely painful and difficult to remove.
If the dog is foolish enough to try to bite down on the porcupine, he can find himself with a mouthful of quills that can extend down into his throat.
Below is what happens when a dog finds himself on the receiving end of a defensive porcupine:
Once a dog has been quilled and is whining and running around in circles pawing at his face, the porcupine has time to make its escape. Afterwards, it simply grows new quills to replace the ones it left behind in the dog.
Why Porcupine Quills Are So Dangerous
Aside from causing extreme pain, porcupine quills can also create all sorts of other issues once they’re embedded in a dog’s skin. Immediately after being quilled, most dogs will paw at their faces and try to rub the quills out by scraping their faces on the ground (or on you). Unfortunately, this only pushes the quills more deeply into the skin, or worse yet, causes them to break off so they’re even harder to remove.
Once in the skin, quills can cause infection and abscesses. However, they can also do much more serious damage. The quills’ barbed tips enable them to move inward into the body, allowing them to migrate into the heart, lungs, abdomen, internal organs, joints, and even into the brain, causing fatal damage.
Quills that are not removed can resurface weeks after the incident. Sadly, some dogs have died from quills that penetrated their heart, lungs, intestines, or other internal organs.
Removing Porcupine Quills
If your dog has been unlucky enough to be quilled by a porcupine, get to a veterinarian immediately. The more time that goes by, the more chances the quills have to break off and get lost in the skin. Porcupine quills need to be removed by a veterinarian while the dog is under anesthesia, a process that can take hours depending on how many quills are present.
Once the dog is anesthetized, the quills are painstakingly removed, one at a time, with a pair of small forceps. The veterinarian holds down the surrounding skin while removing the quills, a technique that helps prevent further swelling. Afterwards, most dogs go home with antibiotics and pain medication, if needed.
Although you may see videos on the internet showing how to remove porcupine quills yourself, please DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Aside from it being excruciatingly painful for the dog if he isn’t anesthetized for the procedure, improperly removing a quill can lead to further skin trauma, tissue damage, and infection. All the quills will need to be located and removed, since any fragments left behind can migrate further into the body.
Dogs Are Chronic Repeat Offenders
So you would think once a dog has been quilled by a porcupine, he would learn his lesson and keep a distance roughly the equivalent of three counties between himself and another porcupine, right?
Wrong. For some reason, dogs are notorious repeat offenders when it comes to porcupines. One veterinarian I read about had a Jack Russell Terrier patient that was quilled an astonishing 15 times.
Since porcupines have no need to run away (besides, they couldn’t outrun a dog even if they had to), encounters between dogs and porcupines will always end very badly for the dog. And considering the average cost of veterinary surgery to remove porcupine quills in the U.S. ranges from $800 – $1,800, it’s easy to see that it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure future dog vs. porcupine encounters are avoided at all costs.
Dogs And Porcupines: Getting To The Point
There are some things you can do to lessen the chance of your dog becoming a porcupine statistic.
- Don’t let your dog run free when you’re walking in wooded areas, which are porcupine’s favorite habitats. Keep your dog on a leash and under your control at all times.
- Don’t assume that if your dog has a strong recall (that is, he consistently comes to you every time he’s called), his recall will not fail if he sees a porcupine. Dogs seem to temporarily lose their minds when it comes to porcupines, and no one really knows why.
- Avoid walking your dog in the woods (or meadows adjacent to wooded areas) after dusk or very early in the morning when porcupines are most active. If you’re walking during times of low light, make sure to carry a flashlight and be aware of your surroundings so as not to startle a porcupine who might be hunting for food.
It’s easy to see why encounters between dogs and porcupines should be avoided at all costs. When it comes to porcupines, your dog’s best friend – and yours – is a leash!
Has your dog ever been quilled by a porcupine? Please tell us about it in the comments below!