This is the season where we see dogs coming into the ER with porcupine quills. Some dogs will get a few quills in their muzzle and quickly retreat. However, many larger breed dogs will not be deterred by a few quills and continue to attack the porcupine. The end result … often hundreds of quills in the muzzle, mouth, front limbs, chest. If your dog has only a few quills, they can often be removed with pliers and a quick pull. However, anything more that 2-3 quills, will result in a very stressed pooch if the quills are pulled without sedation. If only a handful of quills are present, light sedation is all that is required. If there are many quills (>50) then most dogs will need to be anesthetized to allow a team of technicians and veterinarian to work diligently in locating and removing the quills.
It is not uncommon for 1-2 quills to remain. Either it is not noticed or it is simply too deep to be safely removed. These quills eventually migrate, usually to the surface where their owners may notice a sharp protrusion (generally days to weeks after the event) from the skin. If the pet allows and the quill is sufficiently exposed, then a quick, firm pull to remove the quill is often possible.
Quills are not easy to see by any other means other than the naked eye. Sophisticated diagnostics such as CT and MRI often do no allow visualization of quills. Occasionally dogs may have a quill protruding into the heart sac causing blood to build up around the heart. These quills can sometimes be seen with ultrasound.
Pet insurance is recommended for any pet, but accidental pet insurance is definitely a very good idea for any porcupine offender! Dogs do not learn their lesson after the event but rather seem to get even more worked up about porcupines with any future encounters.