I have taken the liberty of using The Times’s headline for this article because it’s quite clever. But there’s a serious side to the slightly amusing headline because porcupine quills are barbed which is why they stick inside the skin of dogs when they have the temerity, and frankly stupidity, to try and attack a porcupine. I have seen the problem with mountain lions as well. It can be really serious for a mountain lion because it makes a survival a lot tougher. Some mountain lions have died of starvation because their faces are covered in porcupine quills.
But back to this dog. His name is Thor. He was found by his owner, Adriano Bertoline of San Paolo Brazil with his face covered in quills. He said that it is the second time that Thor has ended up with his face covered in quills. Adriano has gone to social media seeking financial assistance to help pay for the veterinary bill to remove these nasty barbs.
Dr. Jose Roberto Apolari, a local councillor, stepped up to the plate to help him pay the bill. In fact, this councillor is campaigning for officials to assist cat and dog owners unable to pay for private healthcare for their pets.
Porcupine quills are really quite dangerous. They puncture the skin and move through muscle. They penetrate into body cavities and internal organs. I guess they move through muscle into the body because of the barbs which grip the dermis of the skin and then move forward into muscle where they grip the muscle tissue as it moves.
Once inside the dermis and muscle of the victim they can cause infection and abscesses. In North America, porcupines they are the third largest rodent and are found in many rural areas. They have poor eyesight and are slow-moving. They are plant eaters and have a great sense of smell. They do most of their feeding at night.
Quills are hairs but as you can see in the photograph, they are covered with what I call barbs but they are scales that act like barbs driving the quill into the body.
And you may know that porcupines cannot shoot their quills at a predator but they are easily pulled from a porcupine’s skin when they come into contact with an animal that is attacking them. They use their tails as a club covered with quills when defending themselves.
The quills don’t fall out of the skin over time but move inwards instead, as stated. In the picture you see Thor with his quill-covered face but if this is not treated abscesses will form making treatment more complicated. And there is a risk of body-wide infection which could be very serious and even fatal.
Apparently, some people think that you can cut the quill to deflate it which then releases it from the skin. This is untrue. You can’t just yank them out either because that would cause great pain. The dog would struggle which can end up with the quills going deep inside them. The person trying to do it might get bitten.
The treatment is to minimise your dog’s movements, prevent your dog rubbing his face and get them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. They need to be sedated or be placed under a general anaesthetic for the quills to be removed surgically. Sometimes quills cannot be removed. They will be monitored to see where they migrate to and to check for complications.
The sort of complication would be an infection deep inside the dog. Sometimes migrating quills can embed into joints. Or they can move into an eye and sometimes, rarely, penetrate the brain or other organs.
Apparently, dogs don’t learn to avoid porcupines after such a traumatic experience. The better course of action is to prevent your dog roaming at dusk and after dark.
My thanks to Malcolm Weir DVM and Robin Downing DVM for this information.