What to do if your pup gets quilled by a porcupine

More porcupine sightings have been reported in Yellowknife this year compared to previous years. What should you do if your furry friend meets a porcupine?
Jaya (left) and Finnegan after their run-in with a porcupine in September, 2018. Jaya had 90 quills in her face and mouth. (Submitted by Nicole Garbutt)

Jaya has no qualms running off from her owner as they take their afternoon walk on the Folk on the Rocks festival grounds. 

Scott Letkeman stands back, watching his husky-mix — likely chasing a squirrel, he says.

It was just over a year ago that Jaya ran after something she saw in the bush. They were at their cabin, just outside Yellowknife. Turns out, what she saw was a porcupine.

"I tried to call her off but she immediately bolted after it," Letkeman said.

Jaya ended up with 90 quills in her face and mouth. Letkeman's other dog, Finnegan, jumped in on the action and ended up with around 20 quills in his face. 

'A nightmare'

"I'd say it was a nightmare in the moment," Letkeman said. It was night, and Letkeman and his partner rushed their dogs to the Yellowknife Veterinary Clinic for emergency quill removal surgery.

One thing on his mind, Letkeman said, was a year before a close friend's dog had died after a similar run-in. 

"We were trying to keep as calm as we could so that the dogs wouldn't feed off that and hopefully they would stay calm as well," he said.

Scott Letkeman with Jaya, left, and Finnegan after a walk at the Folk on the Rocks site. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

One year on, both dogs love being outdoors and wrestling. Jaya still chases after squirrels. Letkeman now pays attention to warnings of porcupine sightings — just in case. 

"Normally this time of year we love to take them walking around Tin Can Hill," he said. "We heard there was a porcupine there so we've been pretty much steering clear of the area."

See a vet, don't cut quills

More porcupine sightings have been reported in Yellowknife this year compared to previous years, according to the territory's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR). The department said it's unclear why. 

Michelle Tuma said she's treated more quilled dogs than usual in recent months. 

Tuma is a veterinarian at the NWT SPCA in Yellowknife. She said if your dog gets quilled, the best thing to do — other than make sure the dog is okay — is to contact a vet. 

This dog was brought to the N.W.T. SPCA in September after a run-in with a porcupine. (Submitted by Michelle Tuma)

"A veterinarian could give advice on if the dog needs to be sedated or needs ongoing veterinary care for the quill removal," Tuma explained. 

She added that dog owners can remove the quills themselves in some cases.

"If it's one or two quills that are not very deeply embedded then okay, if your dog lets you remove them," she said. "However if there are more quills and they are deep then you should definitely consult a veterinarian, don't remove them yourself."

Tuma stresses dog owners should not cut the quills, because they're hollow. "They kind of just disintegrate … migrate inside, through the tissues of the dog," she said.

Porcupines can be relocated

Porcupines in Yellowknife have been spotted in the Tin Can Hill area and around Latham Island, according to James Williams, an ENR renewable resource officer. 

Williams said when officers are called about a prickly sighting, officers will check out the area, and if there are dogs in the area they'll relocate the porcupine outside the city or community. 

"Always keep your dog on leash," advises Williams. "You want to keep yourself [and] your dog safe, but you also want to keep other wildlife safe."

Williams said if someone spots a porcupine, they can call ENR to have the animal relocated.