For the most part, people in the southern half of the United States don’t really have to worry too much about porcupines. They are wild animals that northerners have to deal with, not people down in Texas or Southern California. Well, that is no longer the truth. Porcupines seem to be expanding their territory farther and farther south as the years go by, and the warmer winters we’ve been having are also making them more active year-round. While the expansion is slow, as porcupine females only have around one baby porcupine, or porcupette, a year, they are starting to make people notice their increasing habitat range and presence, causing them to fear for their pets. As anyone that has seen Homeward Bound can attest, porcupine quills on a dog’s face look like they are incredibly painful for the poor pooch.
The North American porcupine carries an estimated 30,000 quills all over their bodies, and these quills are as sharp as hypodermic needles. These wild animals don’t need to be aggressive when they’re packing that kind of weaponry. Porcupines would actually rather climb up a tree than face a curious dog, let alone a predator. Lately, however, an increasing number of reports have been coming in about dogs and wild raccoons having been “quilled” by porcupines in areas farther south than people are used to. One poor raccoon was brought into a wildlife sanctuary with a couple hundred quills decorating its face. It took three hours to pull them all out while the critter was sedated. Numerous internet posts have surfaced recently reporting on people’s pets that have come in contact with porcupines, including one cat. Officials are recommending that people keep their dogs on a leash or in a fenced yard to avoid any unwanted encounters.
Porcupines are mostly nocturnal and herbivores, eating only plants and vegetation. They will spend most of their days in sleeping in trees, going out at night to forage for food. This is when most of their encounters with pets occur. The black and white coloring of a porcupine’s quills is actually a signal that they are dangerous, similar to the way bright colors on some insects act as a warning of danger to other insects, since most animals see in only black and white. Porcupines will first try to climb up a tree and escape when confronted by another animal. If they can’t, the porcupine will then face away from the attacker and wag its tail back and forth. They will also curl themselves into a ball and simply let its quills on its back and tail protect its more vulnerable parts like the stomach. The quills aren’t actually thrown or ejected at the other animal; instead they are very loosely attached, making it easy for one to detach and pierce the other animal thinking they’ve found lunch. The barbs at the tip also help the quills imbed themselves into skin, of which there are around 700 to 800 around the top 4 millimeters of the tip of their tail. It takes very little pressure for a quill to pierce the other animal’s skin and work its way deeper, causing extreme pain for the “quilled” animal. Those barbs also make it much harder to remove the quills and more painful for the animal covered in them. This also means removing them is a slow, long, painful process that can cost a pretty penny to have performed by a veterinarian. Keep your pets safe and away from these slowly invading pin cushions.
Have you ever seen a dog or other animal that encountered a porcupine and got “quilled?”