How to pull porcupine quills out of your dog.

They are about the size of a large cat, near sighted and they don’t run. Instead they sort of dreamily lumber around in the dark making odd grunting noises and barely acknowledging you if you follow them around with a flashlight. I like to think of them as beavers who joined a punk band, got burned out on tour and are returning back to their roots.

Unfortunately, your dog likes to think of them as giant chew toys. To be fair, it probably does seem like a lot of fun, a waddling big rodent that rustles when you get too close. To a dog that probably seems irresistible. I imagine that the thought process in a dog encountering a porcupine goes something like this, “Oh man, this is going to be awesome, it’s wiggling at me this is going to be so much fun!” Smack “Oh man, this is pretty terrible, I’m not having any fun.” But there are always repeat customers. We had one dog come in four times in the same Spring for quills one year. Depending on the client, I will often relate it to tequila and college students. It’s one of those things that seems like a great idea and a really good time and then suddenly, it’s no fun anymore. But they often go back another day for more.

Dogs almost never get into porcupines first thing in the morning. It’s usually evening, you’re letting them go out for one last pee before bedtime, you’re half asleep while you stand at the door after you let the dog out and he or she comes back with a face full of quills. Well great. Now what?

The following instructions are only intended for people who are within an hour drive of the developed world. If you find yourself a day’s hike out in the wilderness and then your dog gets quills there you can skip the steps and go to the bottom. If you’re that far out in the wilderness and don’t have a hemostat. Shame on you. Be more prepared next time.

Steps to removing quills from your dog:

1. Call your veterinarian. Darn it. You thought I was going to tell you how to do this at home. Did you forget I’m all about the money I can make from clients? Seriously though, porcupine quills are no joke. Here’s an article explaining their shape and why pulling them out awake might be a terrible idea. It’s at least worth a phone call to speak to a veterinarian and explain the situation. Calling the vet should always be free.

2. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions. For one or two quills, I might have you try to pull them at home. Sometimes even one or two quills requires some form of restraint and professional attention. If there are quills in the mouth or quills around the eye or especially, quills near the shoulder area I will always recommend we remove them for you. Always. These evil little buggers are composed to move in a single direction. Usually they migrate out to the surface but not always. Scroll to the second to last paragraph of this article to see what I mean.

3. Be ready for this to take more than one episode. If your dog does a good enough job on the porcupine there may be quills that we can not reach on the first go round. As these move toward the surface, sometimes a separate procedure is necessary to get everything out.

If your veterinarian told you to try to pull them at home or you are out in the wilderness please open this photo in a separate window. See the tool this person is using to remove them? You need a tool like that, pliers might work but hemostats are better. “But Heath, I don’t have hemostats.” Here’s a pair for less than $15. Hemostats

If you’re spending time in the woods these would come in handy in multiple situations. If you fish, even more so. Look back at the photo. Grab the quill down in the dark section and pull straight back to remove it. One quick motion, no twisting and no bending. If your dog bites you during this, that’s on you. Sorry. That’s one reason why we sedate them.

If you’re unlucky enough to find your dog with quills, give your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic a call. And if they do it once, chances are they will do it again.

Thanks for reading.

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Is my dog going to die from chocolate?

With the big chocolate holidays behind us, I figured now would be the time to tell you just how big of a bullet you just dodged. I will share this truth with you in three stories.

Back in the mid-nineties our family had a Newfoundland with the completely inappropriate name of Spike. Spike was a giant dog – read that as 200 pounds giant – and a bit of a counter surfer. I once watched him eat 6 T-Bone steaks in less than a minute. Bones and all. One Easter season, Spike ate not one but two bags of Hersey Kisses. Did we call the vet? Did we rush him to an emergency clinic? No, we did not. At that time, our veterinary relationship was adequate but we weren’t “A” listed veterinary clients and the thought to call the vet probably didn’t even register in anyone’s mind. We left it alone and he was fine, we laughed about all the foil in the sizable dog piles Spike left in the yard and life moved on.

Fast forward to current times. We now have a 70 pound mixed breed dog who eats everything. He is very appropriately named Angus. Last holiday season he ate an entire pound of mixed light and dark milk chocolate. My wife and I both being veterinarians, did the math and realized he was likely to experience a bit of diarrhea and maybe some vomiting. The only thing worse than having your dog wake you up in the middle of the night vomiting, is to wake up to diarrhea and vomiting. So we made him vomit and we went to bed. And nothing happened.

Around the same time one of my regular patients, a dog with owners that do maintain that “A” listing with our clinic called at the end of the day. This 15 pound dog had eaten about an ounce of chocolate. If you do the math and if you consider all chocolates equal, this dog should be fine. If you consider all chocolate to be equal I will trade you a Hersey’s Dark bar for a Scharffen Berger any day of the week. No, this dog ate a piece of 86% Cocoa chocolate. The good stuff. The potential complications included death. So he came in, I induced vomiting. His vomit smelled delicious. Then I gave him some activated charcoal. A medication to stop the vomiting and some intravenous fluids to dilute out any of the potentially dangerous compounds in the chocolate and encourage urine production. He was going to be boarding with us for a few days the following day anyway so I let him go home for the night where he did just fine. He almost died and the owner probably still has no idea. I have a tendency to downplay things a bit, especially when they turn out exactly as they should.

So there you have it, chocolate can kill your dog. Or it might do nothing. Between those ends of the spectrum is vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and seizures. A seizing dog having diarrhea is a nightmare. In case you were wondering.

If your dog gets into chocolate and you know how much it was and what kind, call the emergency clinic or your vet and run it by them. If you don’t know what kind or how much they got, we’re going to have to assume the worst. If you think you might downplay the amount of chocolate your dog got into so you don’t have to look stupid in front of the vet just picture yourself explaining to them that your dog died after coating your kitchen in chocolate scented vomit and diarrhea while having a seizure and go with the option you are most comfortable with.

And if you want to treat yourself (not your dog) to some chocolate: go for it.
Scharffen Berger

Thanks for reading.

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