ESCANABA - We have always had pets in our household. As our kids grew and moved on they too kept critters and we've shared some interesting experiences, especially with medical problems.
The current numbers show two cats and a Yorkie for Lisa and Jim, two cats and two labs for Amanda and Mike, two labs for Carolyn and Eric, we have a blue-tic mix and a lab, and the latest entry to the clan is a black and tan beagle belonging to Bobbi and Tony. His name is Milo (a.k.a. Smilo, Smiles, Miles and Yipping Little Noise Maker).
Milo came from an animal shelter and was in what must have been a competitive atmosphere. We soon learned that reaching for his food bowl before he is done is not a good idea. He likes to play on his terms and has a personality that makes him the type that can dish out harassment but doesn't take it well in return.
Milo had to have 31 quills removed after an encounter with a porcupine.
Smiles has a voice that can break glass. He barks normally and can even let go with an occasional howl, but he has a hound shriek that makes one's ears ring. When he's upset, Milo then let's out a squeal that is so penetrating, I'm thinking of taping and sending it to an audible alarm manufacturer.
Last year we had a new experience when my dog Sarge contracted Blastomycosis, a fungal disease that dogs get when exposed to decaying matter. Last year it was high in prevalence due to being dry which left marsh areas exposed. We've also had our fair share of wood ticks, occasional cuts and rare encounters with skunks. We have never had to deal with porcupines until two weeks ago when Milo was out on patrol.
Porcupines are mostly nocturnal and Milo doesn't usually go out in the evening. Leave it to him to find a "porky" that decided to take a daytime stroll.
On Saturday morning I received a desperate call from Bobbi. Tony wasn't home and Milo had met a porcupine for the first time. He didn't recognize that it was anything other than it was a four-legged stranger that had not received his permission to enter his domain and my guess was he went to nip at it and ended up at the receiving end of a pattern of pointed quills.
Milo had 31 stuck to his face including nose, mouth, cheeks and lower jaw. There were a few stuck to the roof of his mouth that had to be most painful. The little guy only sat looking perplexed; shaking his head periodically in hopes the quills would perhaps fly out, but did not.
Bobbi immediately looked up a home remedy and developed a plan to remove them. She also contacted the veterinarian who was open and available. We took him in where he was then sedated, cared for and watched recover. We also learned that the do-it-yourself mode of medical care in this situation is not a good idea.
As usual, there are a myriad of local remedies and techniques on how to remove porcupine quills from pets. The Internet is full of home cures but the reality is that when it gets to the point of sensitive areas of the mouth, mucus membranes and airway, you're most likely going to need professional help, not to mention treatment to ward off infection. Some of the home remedy ideas could actually complicate the situation and at time seem to contradict each other.
One mentioned snipping the individual quill to let out air and perhaps reduce its size. What it could really do is cause it to fragment and drive it in deeper from handling.
Another site said to coat the area with vinegar to make the quills softer and more pliable. There was not support data on how this helps and if it does soften the quill, it would take a lot of time soaking to accomplish the task, which would then extend the pain and increase the possibility of infection.
Even if you are able to pull the quills from the fur and face, those inside are delicate and difficult to handle. Your pet may not handle it well, and even if restrained, a bite injury may occur to you the handler.
If you break of a quill it will be harder to extract later and again increase the potential for infection.
It is recommended to contact your veterinarian to see what they charge and would recommend you do. It is not going to be cheap, but in the long run, the immediate investment will pay off better than taking a chance and having to spend more in the long term.
Whether or not dogs like Milo remember the experience is up for grabs. Knowing his demeanor makes me think he's laying low for now but figuring out how to handle the invader the next time they meet.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.