Clinic Stories

It's A Jungle Out There- Porcupines

Dogs have an affinity for porcupines. There is something irresistible about attacking an inverted scrub brush waddling along at a mile an hour. Fortunately most dogs are quick learners – they run off yelping as soon as they are quilled and give up. The quills are barbed and hook under the skin. As dogs rub and paw at them they work their way deeper into the skin. The dogs have to be sedated and the quills pulled out with hemostats. Often the quills break off at the skin level and are not found until they abscess a few days later requiring a second sedation for removal.

Not all dogs give up so easily. Some dogs are repeat offenders and some want to kill the porcupine as if it were any other prey. Those dogs bite down and shake the porcupine side to side, alternately stepping on it to get a better grip. They come in with hundreds of quills in the mouth, tongue, nose, muzzle, feet and shoulders. Extracting the quills is a laborious and time consuming procedure. I once saw two dogs quilled by the same porcupine in the dead of winter. When I expressed surprise that porcupines were active in the winter, the owner told me the dogs played with a dead porcupine they found.

One of the most troubling cases I ever had involved a porcupine. A pit bull was brought in who had killed a porcupine. The front third of his body was a mass of quills and his tongue was so swollen he couldn’t close his mouth. Untreated he would not be able to eat or drink. The owner said this was the fourth time he had been quilled and she had spent in excess of $2000 for his care. She couldn’t afford much more and wondered about putting him to sleep. But he was a healthy four year old dog and she approved the estimate, signed an authorization form and left a 50% deposit. We anesthetized the dog and five people spent 45 minutes pulling quills. The receptions then came back and said the owner was on the phone screaming that she wanted the dog put to sleep. Convinced that I could talk her out of it I got on the phone and she screamed “I want you to stop whatever you are doing and put my dog to sleep this instant. Do not spend another penny on his care.” When I tried to talk to her, she insisted that I immediately euthanize her dog; she couldn’t afford any further care. I walked back to the group and broke the news. Everyone was upset to have a healthy dog whose current care was now almost finished be put to sleep. We discussed it for a few minutes – the owner had emphatically told me and the two receptionists that her decision was to euthanize rather than treat and she clearly would not consider any alternatives.

Just as I finished giving the injection one of the receptions came back. “She changed her mind – she is coming right over to pick up the dog”. When I told her that I had euthanized her dog at her emphatic instruction, she was surprised. “I didn’t think you would do it that fast.” When she picked up her dog’s body I expressed the feelings I still harbor - everyone came out a loser.

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