Many dogs get into porcupine quills. They never seem to learn to avoid these spiny creatures and we have many repeat offenders returning to our hospital to have them pulled. The best way to avoid them is to keep your dog under control during the warm weather months. However, some dogs just seem prone to getting quills.
The problem with porcupine quills, apart from the obvious discomfort, is that the quills migrate through the skin and body. This can happen very quickly, so it is best that the quills be pulled as soon as possible after an encounter with a porcupine. The quills are long and skinny with barbs on the tips. They move forward easily, but cannot reverse without pulling them firmly with pliers or forceps. They can slip away under the skin quickly, making them difficult to find and impossible to pull without making an incision into the skin. In the best cases, they will simply migrate through the skin, popping up somewhere in a few days. They can also become infected, causing abscesses under the skin. In more severe cases, they migrate to the chest causing respiratory difficulties or migrate into the heart causing sudden death. They can also migrate under the eye causing retrobulbar abscesses and even blindness. The other most common site for migration is joints, causing arthritis and lameness. They can migrate to any location in the body. These more severe cases are less common.
When dogs are brought to the hospital for quill removal, they are given an anesthetic so that the quills can be removed more easily.