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Photo: Our dog Snowball after meeting a porcupine

By Kaly White - I have brought my three dogs to the state forest many times with no incident. Everything was so perfect: the scenery, the pond, the peacefulness, and the safety of not having to worry about my dogs getting hit by cars.

Last time went like this: I let the dogs go and off to the forest they went. They came back their muzzle covered with porcupine quills; I knew this would be their last time running free in the forest. Porcupines usually roam at night but there is always an exception to the rule – I should have known that in every forest there was at least one and they would find it! And of course this happened on a Saturday evening at 8 p.m. when all the veterinary's offices were closed! After a few panicked calls I was so happy to find Trout Brook Veterinary Clinic in Potsdam run by (the now late) Dr. Michael Smith and his wife Claudine. They always answered their phone and accepted emergencies so my dogs were very lucky.

The photo above is of my dog Snowball who had much less quills than my Baby Max who would have died if I did not bring him in. He was the one with the most quills all over his tongue and his paws and was covered with his own blood trying to get them out. Not a pretty sight. My three dogs stayed at the vet's overnight. Even though the quills are covered with a natural antibiotic the vet prescribed antibiotics for them to prevent infection. And they all got a Rabies' booster since they encountered wild life, as per New York State law.

The quills that stay inside or are broken at the surface will eventually come out by themselves. If you put Vicks Vaporub on the skin it will help pull it out. (I took three quills out of Max, who let me do it as soon as he realized I was helping him get rid of it.) Clay will also help pull out but has a tendency to close the pores; Vicks keeps the pores open to facilitate the expulsion, so Vicks is the first choice. That’s one thing I learned from Trout Brook Vet Clinic, who gave you home remedies to try before they ask you to bring your dog in.

If you are trying to pull the quills yourself, you might have heard that cutting them will make them collapse because they are hollow and they will pull out easier. That is not true. DO NOT CUT THE QUILLS. If you do they will most likely break off during removal and a portion of it might stay in your dog's skin.

In other words, just put gloves on, pull them with pliers as close to the base as possible to get a better grip, in the same angle as they went in to minimize damage. But if your dog cannot handle the pain, has more than a few quills in, and they are deep in his skin or in a place hard to reach, find a vet as soon as possible to avoid quills going deeper and damaging organs. It is recommended to have the vet look at your dog either way.

One quill that was not pulled out of Max traveled in his body and tried to get out through his left eye two months later. It took the vet one hour 1/2 to take it out!

Since that incident I always walk my dogs on a leash when they are outside of our fenced-in yard. I avoid walking in the woods with them in the early morning hours or at night when the porcupines are most active. I know my dogs will always run straight to a porcupine if they see one so I learned to live with the fact they will not roam freely around the house - for their own protection.

One last thing: someone I know let her dog wander around in the forest during the day without incidents, and her dog is wearing a loud bell on her collar. So wearing a bell might prevent your dog an unpleasant encounter as porcupines or other wildlife will hear them coming and do their best to avoid them.



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