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The Porcupine

By Dr. Paul Horn

On the evening of that big October snowfall, I was out back shoveling a path to the wood pile. Our 1-1/2-year-old lab mix, Jesse, started barking. It was that bark that said, “I have discovered something really interesting.” Fearing a skunk, I went to investigate. As usual, she was in the Case’s yard, and barking at the base of their tree. Looking up in the tree, my headlamp silhouetted the biggest porcupine I have ever seen. Those were some big quills! I thought we had skated by trouble until I noticed what looked like snow all over my dog’s snout. Close inspection revealed porcupine quills embedded around her nose, mouth and chin. Amazingly, it did not seem to bother her at all. She licked at them a little but showed no sign of reluctance to continue chasing this animal that had just impaled her.

My brother-in-law, Matthew Schmidt, who is a local veterinarian, answered his phone, fortunately. I had assumed the situation would require anesthesia, and a thousand dollars, to get the quills out. He suggested I simply pull them out with a firm grip and a hemostat. It was recommended that I grab each quill as close to the skin as possible to avoid breakage. It took my wife and cousin together, providing restraint, so I could dive into the painful task. I was amazed at how firmly each quill was embedded. Quickly, it became apparent that the quills in her nose were the most painful, so I saved those for last. She was very good, but by the last few quills she had become quite distressed. We all lived through the drama and within ten minutes our sweet dog was acting like nothing had happened.

There was one quill embedded in the underside of the chin that would not come out. It broke off at the base leaving about 1/8 of an inch protruding through her coat. Of course I called my brother- in-law again. “Leave it alone,” he said with a prediction that it would migrate farther in under the skin in the next 48 hours, possibly emerging between her lips and gum or under the tongue. It could then be extracted. In his experience, a rogue quill will not usually cause significant problems. The next morning, I could still see the quill protruding. However, consistent with his pre-diction, it had completely disappeared within 24 hours. The only time that the lost quill seems to bother Jesse is when I examine her. I think I can still feel it under her chin and it seems a little tender. I have a peek at her gums and under the tongue periodically. I have not found any sign of quills or infection. She is eating just fine. So, for now, we wait and watch.

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