The Myths and the Facts

With the arrival of summer fast approaching, porcupines will soon be walking among our four-legged family members. We thought we’d share some interesting facts and bust some common myths about the prickly porcupine.

The Porcupine: Porcupines are most active at night (nocturnal) but are often found foraging for food during the day. They are herbivores and love to eat twigs, plants, leaves, nuts, berries and cloves which are often found close to the ground.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the average porcupine has over 30,000 quills covering their body? That’s a lot of quills!

The Quills: Quills are very sharp projections made of the same material as hair (keratin) that cover the entire body of the porcupine. They are black with white tips that can extend 3-6 inches in length. They have very fine one-way barbs that cover the entire quill which make them difficult and painful to remove when stuck in the skin or muzzle of your pet. The one-way directional barbs on the quill are responsible for the “inward” direction in which the quill migrates/moves causing serious complications if not removed.

Fun Fact: The hissing sound heard from a threatened porcupine is not made by the porcupine itself but rather a vibration of all the hollow quills on its body to ward off predators.

Let’s bust some common porcupine quill myths

  1. Porcupines shoot their quills
    False: A porcupine cannot “shoot” their quills or release their quills without making contact with something. However if they feel threatened they will swing their tails as a defense mechanism which often results in quills making contact/puncturing the skin or muzzle of your pet.
  2. Pushing the quill into the skin is better than pulling it out.
    False: Pushing a quill further into the skin can cause serious complications that may result in infections, abscesses, migration of the quill internally, organ perforation or in extreme cases, death.
  3. Cutting the tips off the quill will deflate them and they will come out easier.
    False: The protein they are composed of will not “deflate” as it is a ridged material that is not easily manipulated. In fact it makes the quills much harder for your veterinarian to remove as there is less to grab onto.
  4. Applying heat will make them back out of the skin
    False: The quills do not contain any mechanism that will force them to back out with the application of heat. The “barbs” create a one direction movement that make it difficult for removal.
  5. Applying Vaseline or oil will make it easier to remove them
    False: This may actually make it more difficult for your veterinarian to remove the quills as they may have a hard time grabbing the quill with the instruments used for removal.
  6. Quills contain antibiotic enzymes
    False: They are made of several layers of keratin, a protein which builds hairs (horses hooves and our nails are made of the same thing!)
  7. If I leave them they will fall out on their own.
    False: Quills can migrate at a rate of 0.5cm to 1inch per hour due to the ‘one direction barbs’ along the shaft of the quill.

Did you know? Porcupine quills cannot be seen on x-rays.

Help! My dog has quills

Porcupine Quills are extremely painful, and can cause serious injuries to your pet. They can be very dangerous especially if they break off, are missed during removal or are under the skin or in the chest of your pet. Porcupine quills can migrate through your pets body causing serious complications if not removed correctly.

What do I do now?

Often our furry friends encounter prickly the porcupine while on a walk or away from home. It usually happens quickly and unexpectedly. You may not even know what happened until you see your pet franticly pawing at their face, smacking or drooling and shaking their head. If this happens follow these next few steps to help you get to your veterinarian safely:

  1. Take notice to what area the quills are in. It is very common to have quills in the face, muzzle, paws, and sometimes in the chest (these are the ones want to get out right away.)
  2. Take notice of what time is it. It is important to let your veterinarian know when you call how long it has been since your pet has encountered the quills and how far away you are.
  3. Let the veterinary staff know when you call that you have a pet with quills and they will make a special appointment to get you in as soon as you arrive (They will ask how bad the quills are, you can just guess the approximate amount.)
  4. Try to keep your pet from pawing at their face as this may break the quills or push the quills further into the skin making them difficult to remove. Be careful not to get poked, they hurt!
  5. Do not cut the quill or moisten it as it is more likely to break off when it is pulled. Leave the quills as you found them, your veterinarian and care team will know how best to deal with them.
  6. Safely transport your dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If you encounter quills after hours or during the weekend when your regular veterinary clinic is closed please contact the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic at 468-0674.