7 min read

Dogs Try To Befriend Porcupine And Things Don't Go As Planned

Here's what to do if this happens to you (ouch!)

It was one of the scariest things Peggy Gamblin had ever experienced. During the night, her two dogs, Bentley Nicole and Bullwinkle, had gone wandering around her property in Brown County, Texas, and encountered a porcupine on their turf.

When Gamblin found her dogs cowering in pain the next morning, there was no question who won the fight.

A single porcupine can have upwards of 30,000 quills, making the gentle herbivore a fierce enemy when frightened — and Gamblin’s dogs found out the hard way.

Gamblin rushed her pups to the vet, where it took over an hour and a half to remove hundreds of quills. Bullwinkle, a Boston terrier, is on the mend, but he's still recovering from the unpleasant encounter.

“It was very scary and we are still going to the vet once a week because he got a staph infection,” Gamblin told The Dodo. “He is doing better.”

As Gamblin found out, it’s not uncommon for dogs to have run-ins with porcupines — especially in the summer.

Two porcupines crossing the road in Oregon
Wikimedia Commons/Sandy Brown Jensen

Longer daylight hours and mild evening temperatures mean that dogs often stay outside later, explains Dr. Jennifer Gorman, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Portland, Oregon. But running into the wrong critter at dusk or dawn, when porcupines are most active, can result in a painful lesson.

“Dogs who are curious about other animals or protective of their people or territory are most likely to get quilled,” Gorman tells The Dodo.

So how do dogs actually get “quilled” by a porcupine?

The prickly rodent is pretty passive when it comes to defending herself. Covered in soft hair, the quills are concentrated on their backsides where they lie flat, but if the little animal feels threatened, her spikes rise to attention.

“Contrary to popular belief, porcupines cannot ‘shoot’ quills from their body,” Gorman says. “But if a dog approaches a porcupine, the animal may defend itself with the swipe of a tail. The quills come off very easily and usually end up sticking to the dog’s face.”

A dog with porcupine quills stuck in her face
Addie, a beagle who ran into a porcupine on a hike near her Oregon home | DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital

If you discover quills sticking out your dog's muzzle, it’s best to seek veterinary help immediately. While it may be tempting to try removing them yourself or cutting the quills shorter, that can often do more harm than good.

“Quills have tiny barbs at the end, like a fishhook, which makes them difficult to remove and actually causes the quill to keep moving deeper into the dog’s skin tissue or muscle,” Gorman explains. “Trying to remove the quills without medical expertise, sedation and pain relief medication can be very painful for your dog and potentially result in an infection or abscess, as quills carry bacteria.”

Gorman recommended minimizing your dog's movement on the way to the veterinary hospital, and keeping his paws far away from the quills. Once at the hospital, the dog will most likely be sedated or anesthetized, as well as given medication for the pain.

It depends on the severity, but the quill removal can take several hours. Sometimes all the quills can't be safely removed, and a doctor will have to monitor the dog afterwards to watch for signs of infection.

While most porcupine-related injuries are not life-threatening, waiting too long to treat the situation can have unfortunate consequences.

“Since quills carry bacteria, infection and abscesses are a serious risk,” Gorman says. “Quills can also get stuck in various dangerous locations around the body, including the pet’s eyes, joints or organs. Depending on the nature of the injury, it can result in serious complications, which is why it’s important to have your dog treated as soon as possible.”

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The good news is, once your pup is quill-free, recovery is usually fairly quick. However, Gorman recommends keeping an eye on your pet even after the vet has given the “all-clear.”

“It’s important to monitor your pet for behavior changes or discomfort several days after treatment, just in case any of the area becomes infected or any quills remain stuck under the skin," Gorman notes.

To keep your pets safe this summer, make sure your dogs stay on their leash during walks in the evening and monitor any outside playtime.

And don’t worry about the porcupine who had the run-in with Bullwinkle — she can regrow her quills.