Porcupine Quills

Porcupine Quills

In many states in this country, and in all parts of Canada, porcupines are common. They tempt courageous dogs to attack them, and when they do, the unfortunate dogs find their mouth and bodies full of quills. A quill, which is only a modified hair lightly attached to the porcupine’s skin, has small reverse barbs protruding from the shaft. Under a microscope the barbs look like the prickles on thistle, with one scale overlapping the next. When a quill penetrates the skin, every muscle movement of the victim draws it inward, since the angle at which the barbs are set prevents its moving outward. When attacked, porcupines often inflict severely painful and dangerous injuries. Strong dogs may pick up the porcupine and shake it from side to side, driving hundreds of quills into themselves on each side. For good measure, the porcupine thrashes its quill-filled tail from side to side and up and down, swatting the dog’s legs and body. The tail quills leave a pattern because they are small and black and usually half stud-d ed with barbs. To cap the climax, the poor dog, now feeling the pain, rolls and paws at the quills, driving them in deeper.
Porcupine does not shoot quills; the quills are loosely attached to the skin, and when they become fastened into the flesh of the attacker they are pulled free. The porcupine does not fight with dogs but only defends itself. To cut each quill to release a vacuum and somehow make quills easier to pull is also a fallacy.
If a dog were to attack a porcupine directly in front of a veterinarian’s office, quill removal would be simple. The doctor would quickly administer an injectable anesthetic and pull the quills. It has never been our good fortune to have one of our dog’s quilled within miles of any place where the quills could be pulled surgically.
When they have no pliers, some old hunters out take out their jackknives, cut the quills off, and lead the dog home. They say a cutoff quill is not particularly dangerous and does not work in. Perhaps not to much as with whole quills.
No one should take his or her dog into the woods where there are known to be porcupines without carrying a pair of pliers which have carefully machined jaws and tips. When a dog has been quilled, there may be no time to take it to a veterinarian. Chain it firmly. Get right to work with the pliers from the car if no others are available. With no halfway measure, pull the quills, blood or no blood. Here is a place where heroic methods are necessary.
If your dog is quilted in the woods, let it stand up while you pull the quills from the side on which you are going to lay it. Then pull the quills out of its mouth. Grab a handful of dirt from the forest floor and get hold of the tongue with it, covering your hand so the tongue won’t slip. Pull the tongue out and remove the quills that have stuck into it.If the quills in the dog’s lips have worked through far enough to feel the points on the other side, pulling them point first through the lips isles painful for the dog. Tie its mouth to prevent it nuzzling the quill sand driving them in farther. Remove quills from around the eyes. Then go to work on the body, first behind the shoulders, where quills may work into vital orgasms. When quills break off, feel sorry, but go to work on others.
On many occasions, quills are extracted from dogs surgically while they were in shock from the severity of having been quilled. Anesthetics must be administered cautiously during shock. When the yare used, the progress of any quill is stopped.
If quills are allowed to work in out of sight, they will continue to move about the body. Those that entered the front legs or shoulders generally move upward, and by the following morning, the needle-sharp points of some can be felt emerging from the skin above the shoulder blades, whence their progress has been guided by the broad bones. Putting dozens or even hundreds of gashes over a dog’s shoulders and legs is less satisfactory than letting the quills move themselves to appoint where the tips can be felt through the skin. If the point doesn’t emerge, nick the skin and pull it, thus removing a fresh crop every day,until they are all out. Feeling for quills is the only efficient method of locating them. X rays are useless.


Many bits of vegetation such as cactus spines, thorns, and weed seeds may gain entrance to the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth and penetrate, causing abscesses. Foxtails, a weed-seed spread-in device, are perhaps the most common of these objects and must be removed to correct the problem.


It is hard to believe that every summer hundreds of dogs arc killed by flies. And yet dogs die everywhere in the United States from being eaten alive by the larvae of flies maggots. In the North only long-haired dogs arc attacked.
Somewhere, for example, under the long bushy coat of a Collie or on the matted hair of an Old English Sheepdog, abrasion may occur. Perhaps it is a small patch of skin disease. Flies are attracted by the serum that the body has exuded and laid eggs on or near the wound. Maggots hatch and live on the moist tissue which they kill by the toxins they secrete. The hair prevents the dog from chewing and lock-in off these enemies. The maggots continue to grow and spread in the area. Finally, some migrate to other moist spots and begin to feed. More flies are attracted and soon the dog is a mass of maggots. Even a badly infested dog can be saved by prompt action, but many dogs have died for the want of adequate and timely attention. The coat should be clipped, the holes, which may be an inch deep, washed clean of the pests, and antiseptic dressings applied. Often the first sign to the owner will be prostration of the dog, for the maggots give off a powerful toxin. if you don’t discover the worms until that stage has been reached, get the dog to your veterinarian at once. Infusions may save its life.

Alicia Carter

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