The woods are full of sticky surprises
Our clinic received a first this last week that I hope does not become a regular case seen for the sake of animal and owner.
Early last Thursday I was trying to make myself scarce up to my ears in tax preparation. It was, after all, my day to play hooky. (Somewhere in the veterinary textbooks, I remember it saying that all veterinarians are exempt from a day off.)
Despite my plans, a call came from a client who lives east of town along the Cedar Creek valley. As she described the situation, I could not believe it. It seemed both of her hounds liked to do a little running in the woods. The night before, they both came home with a muzzle full of porcupine quills. The petowners attempted to remove the quills and were unsuccessful. I advised they bring the poor dogs in at once, knowing full well how painful this condition must been for them.
Upon admission, the diagnosis was obvious (duh!). It was now my common sense that had to kick in. Both of these dogs needed to go "night-night" under general anesthesia before we could attempt the picking party. I had read about the other far-off practitioners dealing with porcupine quills, but one never knows what you up against until confronted by the situation for the first time.
The quill itself is about the size of one of grandma's darning needles. After placing a quill under the microscope, we found the quill possesses reverse, microscopic "barbs" that allow it to stay fast in the skin or tissue in which it was deposited. The dogs had quills in the lip, hard palate, tongue, nose, gums and neck. One dog had about 25 and the other 75 quills firmly imbedded to a depth of a half an inch to an inch. It took a firm and careful pull to get them out. This effort, I would advise only a professional to do and under appropriate anesthesia.
The two dogs were treated with antibiotic, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication before being released the next day. Surprisingly, both dogs had minimal swelling but still were a bit touchy about the muzzle. Wouldn't you be?
For you readers who have never seen a porcupine in the wild, don't feel alone, neither have I. This large and sluggish rodent is mostly nocturnal. It feeds at night on a diet of essentially what a tree can offer. The best know American specie of porcupine, the Canadian porcupine, (erethizon dorsatum) measures up to three feet from nose to tail and weighs from 15 to 30 pounds. As can be imagined, if we have porcupine in our woods, their range has expanded from what was Canada and the Northeastern woods of America. A recent polling of various, reliable, friends and clients revealed we have an indigenous population, lurking in our local woods. I believe I have spotted one laying, deceased on the side of the road. A local rancher tells of having to pull quills out of a cow's snout recently.
You know, I would not mention all this if it were not so unusual and hopefully interesting to you, the reader. The clients whose dogs were affected went online before calling me. They read that most "quilled" pets did not make a recovery but died. It truly was the quick action of these owners that saved their dogs' lives. I am sure if the quills were not removed, the dogs could not have ate, culminating in starvation. That scenario doesn't take into account the consequences of secondary infection.
The potential for grave harm exists.
Once again, we find our pets, like us, live so precariously close to the wild kingdom -- a kingdom where the risks are great. As I've said before, the odds of your dog, horse or cow encountering a porcupine are slim, but if it occurs, seek professional help ASAP. Your friend's life may lie in the balance and your quick decision will be necessary. Stay tuned for the next adventure lurking in and out of the clinic doors.