Dog Attacked By Porcupine: How to Remove Porcupine Quills From Dogs

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18 Minute Read
Updated April 27, 2022

If your dog likes to follow his nose, it might get him into some sticky situations. Find out what to do if your dog gets attacked by a porcupine and how to prevent these unwanted encounters. 

Going outside is probably one of your dog's favourite parts of his day! There's nothing quite like getting some fresh air and taking in all the new smells. Unfortunately, sometimes those smells lead dogs straight to trouble.

One such troublemaker is the porcupine. These prickly creatures are actually pretty docile most of the time, but if a dog gets too close, they can be quite aggressive. And that's when things can get really ugly - for your dog, at least.

Porcupines have sharp quills on their backs and sides that they use for defence. If a dog tries to attack or even just play with a porcupine, those quills will end up embedded in his skin. Ouch!

So, what should you do if your dog gets attacked by a porcupine? This article will walk you through everything you need to know about a porcupine attack, including the best way to remove porcupine quills from dogs, dog porcupine quill treatments, and porcupine attack prevention.

 

What Exactly Are Porcupines?

If you live in an area with an active porcupine population, it’s necessary to know what they are and their basic habits and behaviour. This can help keep your dog safe and be on the lookout for a dreaded porcupine attack. 

Porcupines are large rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, all over their body. These animals are usually brown or grey, and they can grow to be anywhere from two to three feet long. Porcupines are found in North America, South America, Africa, and parts of Asia and Europe.

In North America, there are two types of porcupines: the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) and the yellow-faced porcupine (Coendou mexicanus). The North American porcupine is the largest species, and it is the one you're most likely to encounter in the wild.

Porcupines are nocturnal animals, meaning they are most active at night. During the day, they like to sleep in trees or caves. Porcupines are good climbers and can even climb down trees head-first!

These animals are mostly herbivores, which means they eat plants. Porcupines usually eat leaves, twigs, bark, and other plant materials. They will also eat fruits, nuts, and seeds when they can find them. Porcupines have sharp incisors and molar teeth that help them chew through tough plant material.

Though they can bite and scratch, a porcupine's best defence is their quills. These quills are actually modified hairs that are sharp at the tips and covered in barbs. When a porcupine feels threatened, it will raise its quills to make itself look bigger and more intimidating. If an animal gets too close, the porcupine will use its quills as a weapon.

The quills are hollow and filled with air, making them very light. When they penetrate an animal's skin, the barbs on the quills cause them to become embedded in the flesh. Once the quills are embedded, they continue to grow and can eventually work their way deeper into the body if they're not removed.

 

What Happens When a Dog Gets Attacked by a Porcupine?

sad-dog-with-porcupine-quills-in-face

Porcupines usually only attack humans or other animals if they feel threatened. However, dogs are often fascinated by these animals and may approach them out of curiosity or aggression. If a dog gets too close, the porcupine will defend itself by lashing out with its quills.

These quills are sharp, and they can cause serious damage to your dog's skin and tissues. In fact, porcupine quills are barbed, so they can actually work their way deeper into your dog's flesh as he struggles to get away.

In most cases, dogs will back away when they get pricked by porcupine quills, but some prey-driven dogs will not take this attack lying down. If your dog lashes out, he may end up with lots of quills in very sensitive areas of their face, like his mouth and eyes. 

How Do I Know if My Dog Has Been Attacked by a Porcupine?

If you're out hiking or walking with your dog and you see a porcupine, the best thing to do is to keep your dog away from it. But, if your dog has already been attacked, there are some tell-tale signs.

First, you'll likely see quills embedded in your dog's skin. These quills can be anywhere from 1-3 inches long, and they're usually dark in colour. Most dogs that are unfortunate enough to be the victim of a porcupine attack have quills lodged in their face, chest, neck, and shoulders. Quills may also be found in a dog's legs, belly, paws, or back.

Second, you may notice that your dog is acting differently. He may be in pain, and he may be more aggressive than usual. Even if you don't see quills, this odd behaviour is a good indicator that he might have gotten stuck by a quill somewhere. Look for signs of:

    • Limping and other mobility issues
    • Whining or whimpering
    • Excessive drooling
    • Coughing or gagging

Can Dogs Get Sick From Porcupine Quills?

Not directly. The quills themselves are neither poisonous nor venomous, just painful. The initial attack is not likely to be lethal or even overly debilitating, so long as the quills are removed quickly. The after-effects of the porcupine attack, however,  can lead to infection, abscesses, and severe scarring if not properly treated.

If you are not sure or aren't comfortable treating your dog's porcupine attack, then please seek medical attention for your pet. In fact, even if you are comfortable, it's still a good idea to follow up with your vet. This is one situation in which playing it safe is very much advised. 

 

How to Remove Porcupine Quills From a Dog

If your dog gets attacked by a porcupine, the best thing to do is to remove the quills as soon as possible. However, it’s very challenging to remove the porcupine quills by yourself. Porcupine quills are barbed and can be quite sharp, which makes it easy for them to sink deep into your dog's skin.  

It is dangerous for both you and your dog to try to remove them if you don't know what you are doing. You could end up pushing them further into your dog's skin or causing more damage, making it harder for the vet to remove them.

Additionally, your dog will be very agitated. It is extremely likely you could get bitten as a natural response to your dog being in pain.

Should You Remove Porcupine Quills from Your Dog?

You may be wondering if you should remove porcupine quills from your dog by yourself. Of course, our first instinct is yes, but if the quills are in precarious spots or if your dog is very agitated, you may be more worried about hurting your dog further.

In some cases, removing the quills yourself is safe. When there are less than a dozen quills, and assuming those quills are not too close to your dog's eyes, ears, and throat, then removing the porcupine quills is probably ok. 

If the conditions are more complicated, however, you should contact your vet for the best next steps before trying any treatment at home. 

How Long Can You Leave Porcupine Quills in a Dog?

If you don't have easy access to a vet, like if you are out on a hike or camping with your dog, you may be wondering how long you can leave the porcupine quills in your dog while you seek appropriate care. 

There isn't one set timeline before the quills start to migrate deeper. The severity of the porcupine attack will determine how quickly medical intervention is needed. What we can say is the sooner, the better. The longer the quills stay in, the more likely it is that the barbs will slowly pull the quills in deeper. 

If the quills are in dangerous areas, like your dog's mouth or eyes, then you need to get to a vet as soon as you can. Try to stabilize your dog by preventing him from moving around and pawing or licking at the quills until you are able to get to a vet. 

Considering the risks, we advise that you DO NOT REMOVE PORCUPINE QUILLS FROM DOGS BY YOURSELF unless you have no other option. The barbed quills will not come out without a fight and can often do more damage coming out than going in. Vets have the best tools and skills to safely remove porcupine quills and the equipment to make sure that no quills have been missed. 

However, if you decide to remove them yourself, you should take the following precautions:

Tools for Removing Porcupine Quills

You may feel a bit panicked when you are in the thick of it, but it's important to prepare yourself with the right tools to safely remove the quills from your dog. These tools will not only keep your dog safe and prevent further injury, but they can also keep you safe.

Dog E-Collars

Once attacked, your dog is going to be feeling the pain of the quills and may freak out a little. That's why it's important to immobilize your dog as best you can and prevent them from pawing at the quills or trying to remove them by themselves. 

The more your dog fusses with the quills the more likely the quills are to break or migrate further into your dog's skin. The face, chest, and paws are the most common spot for dogs to get stuck by a porcupine, so a dog e-collar or cone collar, like the ZenPet ZenCone, can be a very helpful tool to have on hand.

Other tools like a leash and collar and a blanket can help to contain your dog and prevent them from worsening the quill punctures until they can be removed or you can seek medical attention for your dog. 

Check out our Dog Collar Guide to find the style and size that best suits your dog. 

Pliers

The barbed quills sticking out of your dog's skin can easily rick you if you try to remove them by hand. Instead, grab a pair of pliers that will enable you to get a firm grip of the quill safely. Tweezers may not grasp the quill securely like the flat edge of the plier's will and this could lead to damaging or breaking the quill.

Rubbing Alcohol

As each quill puncture has created an open wound, you should sanitize the pliers to prevent bacteria from getting into the wound and causing infection or irritation as the wounds heal. Rubbing alcohol will be the quickest way to sanitize your tools, but vinegar can be used in a pinch. 

Ideally, you can dip the pliers into the sanitizing solution and then give them a quick rinse. 

Gloves

Protect your hands from the sharp quills and from your panicked dog with a good pair of gloves. Latex gloves are a good way to keep away bacteria from your dog, but they won't provide much protection for you. Rubber-tipped gardening gloves (clean, of course) will provide some protection during this process.   

Wound Treatments for Dogs

Once all the quills have been removed, you should clean the area with an antiseptic solution to help prevent infection. Neosporin is a popular antibacterial topical treatment for humans that can be suitable for pets; however, having a pet-specific wound treatment in your pet first aid kit is best. 

Here are a few of our best topical wound treatments for dogs:

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How to Pull Porcupine Quills Out of a Dog

Once you have the right tools handy, you can start removing the quills, but it's not just as simple as grab and pull. It's important you know where to grab the quills, how to pull them from your dog's skin safely, and how to keep your dog calm in the process. 

Here are some helpful steps to pulling porcupine quills out of a dog:

1. Don't Panic

It can be quite alarming when your dog ends up being a pin cushion for a porcupine. The quills look painful, and they are, and your dog might be losing his cool. You must try your best to stay calm to handle the situation safely. 

Your panicky behaviour will only add to your dog's anxiety over the situation and could make it more difficult to safely remove the quills. 

2. Take a deep breath and assess the situation

How many quills does your dog have? Are they just in his face or neck area, or are they scattered all over his body? If there are just a few quills, you may be able to remove them yourself. But if there are dozens (or more), it's best to seek professional help. 

3. Keep your dog still

This will help minimize the risk of further injury and make the quill removal process easier. If your dog is agitated, he may move around a lot, making it difficult to remove the quills and even further push the quills.

If necessary, you may need to restrain your dog. Having another set of hands to hold and calm your dog can make a big difference. Avoid muzzles unless you are sure that your dog's face and neck are free of quills. 

4. Do not cut the quills

Many resources online recommend cutting the quills to make them easier to remove. The theory is that because they are hollow, cutting them will cause them to collapse and become narrow enough to pull out easily.

This is not true. They may be hollow, but they will hold their shape beneath the skin. If anything, cutting them will weaken the strands, making them more likely to break off during removal, leaving a portion of the quill in your dog's skin. 

5. Grab the quill as close to the base as possible

The ends of the quill are more fragile and thin, so they will likely break off. The closer to your dog's skin you can grab the quill with the pliers, the more likely the quill will come out in one piece. 

6. Pull straight back from the direction it went in

Bending or twisting the quill or pulling it at an angle can snap or splinter the quill, leaving pieces of it in your dog's skin that will be very difficult to get out, even for your vet. Look at the angle that quill entered your dog's skin and pull straight back from there. 

7. Feel the skin for missed quills

Once all the visible quills have been removed, it's a good idea to feel the surrounding areas of skin by lightly pressing your fingertips into your dog's skin. This will help you find any broken quills hiding in the fur and any pieces that may have migrated below the skin's surface. 

8. Take note of any problem areas

Unreachable quills or odd behaviours from your dog should be monitored closely and recorded. This will help your vet handle any complications that may arise from your dog's porcupine attack.  

9. Clean the wounds.

After all the quills are removed, you'll want to use a pet-safe wound and infection treatment to clean the open wounds and prevent infection. A quick and gentle wash of the area with lukewarm water will wash away any blood and debris, and then a bacteria-fighting topical treatment will kill off any bacteria in the wound sites. 

10. Aftercare can prevent infection.

Minor porcupine attacks may only leave a few small punctures that will heal quickly, but large clusters of puncture wounds or wounds in sensitive areas may require care for days, even weeks after the attack. 

Keep the area clean, and monitor your dog's behaviour. Even if the wounds are healing normally, your dog may instinctually lick or scratch the area, which can disrupt the healing process. Protective gear like a cone, the best dog boots, or a recovery vest - like the Suitical Recovery Suit - may be needed to prevent your dog from irritating the wound sites. 

Topical treatments like coconut oil for dogs can help to improve healing and prevent irritation on your dog's skin. 

Dog Stress & Anxiety Solutions

Take Your Dog to the Vet

At the vet, they will likely give your dog a sedative to help him relax while they remove the quills. This is important because struggling will only cause the quills to embed deeper.

Once your dog is sedated, the vet will carefully remove each quill one at a time. This is a time-consuming process, but it's important to make sure that all the quills are removed properly.

If even one quill is left in your dog's skin, it can cause a serious infection. Porcupine quills are often coated with bacteria that can lead to infections like cellulitis, abscesses, and septicemia. So, it's important to get all the quills out as soon as possible.

After the vet removes the quills, they will likely prescribe antibiotics to help prevent infection. They may also recommend pain medication to help your dog cope with the discomfort.

Once you're home, you'll need to keep an eye on your dog for signs of infection. These can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and redness or swelling at the site of the quills. If you see any of these signs, take your dog back to the vet right away.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help your dog feel better. First, make sure the area around the quills is clean and dry. You can use a mild antiseptic to clean the area if needed.

You may also want to apply a warm compress to the area to help soothe your dog's pain. Just be careful not to use anything too hot - you don't want to burn your dog's skin. Finally, give your dog plenty of love and attention. This will help him feel safe and loved, even though he's in pain.

Home After Care for Porcupine Quills in Dogs

There are also some home remedies and medications that you can use. Ask your vet which ones are suitable if she has already prescribed medications to help your pup recover from his porcupine attack. 

    • Tropiclean OxyMed Anti-Itch Spray provides immediate relief of itching and scratching caused by many different ailments and can be helpful in a porcupine attack. This no-sting formula uses micronized oatmeal and Vitamin E to soothe and refresh the skin and Vitamin B5 to promote healthy skin and coat, helping your dog get back to himself in no time.
    • Keep your dog from opening her wound with the Kong Cloud Collar. This collar is so much more comfortable than traditional cone collars. They make recovery from an injury such as a porcupine attack, rash, or surgery as comfortable as possible. The soft design won't affect your pet's peripheral vision or interfere with drinking or eating. This is perfect for helping your pup recover from porcupine quills injuries.
    • Prevent infection with True Leaf Natural Response Topical Gel. This is an all-natural anti-viral and fungal spray that can treat a variety of wounds and infections, including those from porcupine quills. This can help eliminate pathogens and bacterial organisms for fast recovery. 
    • Your dog will probably be anxious and stressed due to the porcupine attack. Both getting attacked and removing porcupine quills from dogs can be difficult for your pup. Help keep him calm with Acorn Pet Products Calm Paws Calming E-Collar. This collar has a flap pocket with calming Calm Paws Discs that help your dog recover by keeping him calmer. This can help reduce behaviours caused by stress so that the wound can heal better.

Porcupine attacks are no fun for anyone involved. But with some quick thinking and a trip to the vet, your dog will be back to his old self in no time.

Preventing a Porcupine Attack on Dogs

Porcupine-on-grass

Prevention is always the best medicine, so it's important to take steps to keep your dog safe from porcupines. When you are out and about with your dog, keep these tips in mind to reduce the chances that your dog will come face to face with these pokey creatures:

1. Keep Your Dog On Leash

The best way to do this is to keep him on a leash when hiking or walking in areas where porcupines live. Your local dog park might be your dog's favourite place to run free, but it may also be a preferred habitat for porcupines. 

When walking through forested areas, keep your dog nearby, even if they are off-leash. Research the wildlife in your area to find the most suitable places to let your dog off-leash safely. You can also train your dog to have good recall skills and follow commands, like leave it, to prevent your dog from getting too close to any wildlife. 

2. Avoid High Activity Times

As a mostly nocturnal creature, porcupines are most active in the evening and early morning hours when the sun is just barely out. If your regular walking path is also popular with porcupines, consider adjusting your dog's walking schedule to avoid these animals. 

Sticking to daylight hours won't completely eliminate your risk, though. Porcupines will forage for food as needed, so there is still a chance that you might run into one. 

3. Avoid Tall Bushes and Low Trees 

When walking your dog, either on or off-leash, try to steer your dog clear of thick brush, tall grass, and coniferous trees that could easily conceal a porcupine or any other wild critter that you'd rather avoid, like skunks

They nest wherever they can, so your dog's curiosity in that hollow stump or that fallen tree may mean that your dog is sticking his nose right into a porcupines living room.

4. Make Your Home Unfriendly to Wildlife

Sometimes porcupines find your dog, not the other way around. Sort of. If your yard is appealing to porcupines, they are likely to stop by for a visit or even claim squatter's rights. Here, your dog is very likely to discover these unfriendly creatures. 

Take steps to deter porcupines from coming onto your property in the first place. These animals are attracted to food sources, like raccoons and other scavengers, so keep your trash cans tightly sealed and don't leave food outside. You should also trim back any vegetation that might provide cover for a porcupine.

5. Make Your Dog Noisy

Porcupines will avoid interacting with dogs whenever they can, so give them a chance to sneak away before your pup gets too close. A bear bell and a bright flashing light on his collar can help warn all creatures that your goofy pooch is headed their way. 

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5. Make Your Home Unfriendly to Wildlife

Sometimes porcupines find your dog, not the other way around. Sort of. If your yard is appealing to porcupines, they are likely to stop by for a visit or even claim squatter's rights. Here, your dog is very likely to discover these unfriendly creatures. 

Take steps to deter porcupines from coming onto your property in the first place. These animals are attracted to food sources, like raccoons and other scavengers, so keep your trash cans tightly sealed and don't leave food outside. You should also trim back any vegetation that might provide cover for a porcupine.

 

You can help prevent a porcupine attack on your dog by taking these precautions. And if a porcupine does happen to cross your dog's path, you'll know just what to do.

Porcupine attacks are no fun for anyone involved. But with some quick thinking and a trip to the vet, your dog will be back to his old self in no time.

Why Do Dogs Attack Porcupines?

While porcupines may seem like harmless creatures, they can be dangerous to dogs if they feel threatened. If your dog is curious about porcupines or if it gets too close to one, the porcupine may lash out and attack. So why are dogs so curious about these walking needle factories?

Though every dog may be different, their natural prey and hunting instincts are not. Whether your dog is just trying to say hello, or if he's hunting a tasty snack, he is driven to investigate. 

Porcupines typically only act in self-defense, but your dog may interpret the creature's spiky display of toughness as an act of aggression. This leads to your dog making the first move. In most dog-porcupine interactions, your dog will be the aggressor.

We can't do much to control the wildlife around us, but you can teach your dog to give them a wide birth and to share space safely. You'd think that one quilling would be enough to make your dog wary of these creatures, but that's often not the case unless your dog is trained to respect his fellow animals. 

If you live in an area with porcupines, it's important to be aware of the dangers they pose to dogs. Keep your dog on a leash when you're hiking or walking in areas with wildlife activity. And if you see a porcupine, keep your dog away from it to avoid any potential problems.

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Has your pooch ever met the pointy end of a pesky porcupine? Share your story or tips in the comments below!

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Homes Alive Pets

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