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Home Remedies for Dogs With Porcupine Quills and Foxtails

For some reason, some dogs just don't want to leave porcupines alone.
Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Most dogs love any chance to run, sniff and poke around outside. Enjoying the great outdoors together is a wonderful way to spend time with your dog and get some much-needed exercise for the both of you. If you're going beyond just a walk around the block, though, there are some potential hazards that you need to know about in case your pooch encounters one.

If you happen to be hanging out in heavily mix-forested areas in the north or western United States, Canada, or even in areas of Africa or Southeast Asia with your dog, there's a chance that he could encounter a porcupine. These spiny rodents are herbivores -- big, gentle and slow -- but they have a great defense mechanism. Sometimes, carnivores like wolves and coyotes (and even humans) eat porcupines. Maybe that's why some dogs also find them appealing and try to get the best of them. When threatened, a porcupine usually just sweeps its tail, and the intruder ends up as a pincushion.

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You'd think one nose full of quills would be enough to put any dog off his curiosity about porcupines, but some dogs never learn. If your pooch tangles with one of these spiky critters and ends up covered in quills, take him to the vet. If it's just a few quills, however, you can try to remove them yourself.

Get yourself some rubber gloves, a pair of needle-nose pliers and someone to help you hold your dog. You may need to cover his eyes at first so he doesn't see the pliers coming. Stay calm and talk to him softly. Next, grasp each quill near the point of entry and pull straight out. Your pooch will probably pull back, making it easy to remove the quills. Try not to break any of them. Once you're done removing the quills, apply a topical antiseptic to the affected area.

If you're leery about pulling quills out of a dog yourself, if he has a large number of them, or if the quills are embedded in tricky or painful places (inside the dog's mouth, for instance), your pet will likely need sedation or even anesthesia and a long, slow removal process. Your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics to stave off infection as well.

Up next: Another potential outdoor hazard -- an innocent-looking grass that can be deadly to your dog.

Although it looks harmless, foxtail can cause serious problems for your dog
Although it looks harmless, foxtail can cause serious problems for your dog
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It seems innocent enough -- a tall, slender grass topped with a spiky bristle that looks like wheatgrass. Foxtail grows in vacant lots, along the edges of lawns as weeds, and in the wild in big, open fields. There are different varieties that grow all around the United States. The microscopic bristles get caught very easily in your sock or in a dog's coat, often while you're out hiking. The barbed ends can pierce your pet's skin, working their way further and further in as the dog moves. The rest of the grass can fall away, but the bristle isn't coming out by itself.

Foxtails are often found between a dog's toes, in his ear canal or even up his nose. If you don't notice right away that your dog has encountered one, signs include sneezing with blood, head-tilting and ear-rubbing, or a seeping wound in his paws. Foxtails are the most common type of embedded foreign body to be taken out of dogs in the United States. Obviously, dogs who spend a lot of time outside -- especially sporting or working dogs -- are the most likely to tangle with a foxtail.

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Embedded foxtails are very painful to your dog and cause bleeding, but of even more concern is the fact that bacteria are often carried into the wound with the spike -- and into the body as far as the spikes burrow. Foxtails can pierce the ear canal and have been found in the lungs, stomachs and small intestines of dogs. They can even penetrate through the brain. Related infections can be very serious, particularly those that occur in the chest, and can even lead to death if left untreated.

The best remedy for foxtails is to avoid them completely. If you notice them in your yard, remove them or use a weed killer. Be sure to inspect your dog's coat thoroughly after hiking, including between his toes. If you find even the smallest sliver, remove it as soon as possible to prevent it from moving deeper into his coat.

If your pup has snagged a foxtail and you can't remove it easily, take him to the vet. The longer you wait, the deeper it can penetrate, so don't hesitate. Your vet may need to remove the foxtail surgically and might prescribe antibiotics to avoid any infection.

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Sources

  • Beebe, Don. "Foxtails Can Be Hazardous to Your Pet's Health." Aztec Animal Clinic. 2010. (June 10, 2011) http://www.aztecanimalclinic.com/foxtails.htm
  • Bromley, Dennis and Tim Osborne. "Porcupine." Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2008. (June 10, 2011) http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/education/wns/porcupine.pdf
  • Clark, Curtis. "Dog Owner's Guide to California Foxtails." California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. June 14, 1998. (June 10, 2011) http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/dogs/foxtails.html
  • Drs. Foster and Smith. "Porcupine Quills in Pets: First Aid and Removal." Drs. Foster and Smith Pet Education. 2011. (June 11, 2011) http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+1677&aid=1685
  • Dunn, T.J. "Oh No! Porky Quills!" The Pet Center. 2011. (June 10, 2011) http://www.thepetcenter.com/gen/pq.html
  • Eldredge, Debra M., et al. "Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." John Wiley and Sons. 2007.
  • Kay, Nancy. "Those Frustrating Foxtails." AAHA Healthy Pet. May 19, 2010. (June 10, 2011) http://www.healthypet.com/petcare/BlogDetail.aspx?blg_key=a53cf637-33c2-4fba-9d92-561ccc8b26fc
  • Nash, Holly. "Protecting Your Pet from Grass Seeds and Awns." Drs. Foster and Smith Pet Education. 2011. (June 10, 2011) http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2111&aid=2964

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