Vail pets: Porcupine quills can harm your dogs |

Vail pets: Porcupine quills can harm your dogs

Nadine Lober
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Most of us in Colorado’s Vail Valley know what a porcupine looks like and that its quills can end up sticking out of our dogs. Unfortunately our dogs do not seem to know that quills are not acupuncture needles and don’t feel as good.

Here are a few facts about porcupines that most people do not know. First of all, they are vegetarians and are more active at night. They have poor vision, a great sense of smell and are very slow and clumsy. They screech, whine and grunt. The most common predators of porcupines are great horned owls, coyotes and mountain lions.

Porcupines do not hibernate. In the winter they roost in their dens in rock crevices, hollow logs and even under houses, and eat bark high in the trees and are not as visible. But when the weather warms up, as it’s doing now, porcupines eat plants on the ground and are more likely to encounter our dogs.

Quills are modified hairs that are hollow and have spines on the end. When a porcupine feels threatened and it assumes a defensive posture, it spins around and thrashing its tail at the predator. Quills come out of the porcupine skin easily ” this is why people think that the quills are thrown.

Quills are not thrown and when the predator, such as our silly dog, puts his nose or mouth on the porcupine, the predator comes away covered in quills. Quills get embedded and quickly work their way in deeper.

Quills are painful and can be fatal. There is a backward facing barb on the quill tip which catches on the skin, making them difficult and painful to extract. Younger porcupine quills are finer and more difficult to find on your dog’s body.

It is very important to remove the quills soon. The quills that remain in your pet can cause infection, but the biggest danger is when the quills become embedded in the skin and start migrating internally. For instance, quills stuck in the front chest can penetrate more deeply as your dog moves around.

I have seen quills in the most unpredictable places, so It is very important to check all areas that may have been affected. If quills are stuck in the face, the nostrils, under the tongue, back of the throat must be searched. If the dog has quills elsewhere, you should try to keep it from moving around so the quills don’t penetrate more deeply and migrate.

Sometimes it is necessary to anesthetize the pet to successfully pull out all the quills, and sometimes a sedative is enough.

A big misconception is the cutting a quill in half makes it easier to pull out. In fact, this only increases the likelihood the quill will be embedded deeper, and making it harder to remove.

So remember to educate your dogs before taking them on your summer hikes ” curiosity can be painful.

Veterinarian Nadine Lober can be reached at 970-949-7972. E-mail comments about this column to

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