Porcupines are a widespread group of animals that inhabit almost every continent except Antarctica. They are divided into two families, old-world porcupines, and new-world porcupines. The new world porcupines are mainly found in North America and some parts of northern South America.
A porcupine’s primary defense is the quills, which they use to deter predators. The quills are not poisonous but can cause infections, leading to severe injuries.
These fantastic animals are one of nature’s wonders, so I wanted to find out if they were dangerous to humans and our pets.
Are Porcupines Deadly To Humans?
Typically, most wild animals avoid contact with human beings, and porcupines are no exception. However, this does not mean that this animal will not attack you should it feel threatened or annoyed.
Many people think that porcupine quills are poisonous. The quills of a porcupine are not toxic but can be extremely painful and cause injuries. Also, a porcupine cannot project or shoot out its quills toward the enemy as it was initially believed.
The porcupine will raise and shake its quills when it wants to defend itself. This behavior acts as a warning to predators. If the threat does not retreat, the porcupine will be forced to charge at it and use its quills. The quills come out on contact and can be left embedded into the skin of a predator or human who disturbs the porcupine.
While porcupine spines are not poisonous, they can be very painful and tricky to remove. The quills are laced with barbs or scales, making them extremely difficult to remove.
If you get spiked by a porcupine’s quills, it is best not to attempt to remove them alone. It is much safer to go to a doctor or a veterinarian to help remove them. This will also cause less pain when being removed.
Human beings are advised to avoid disturbing or upsetting porcupines. Porcupines do not attack unless they feel they are threatened. Their quills can break inside and start moving around inside the skin. This can result in deadly infections if you do not get the proper treatment.
When the porcupine animal spikes you, it puts you at risk of developing diseases such as rabies. Rabies is a dangerous disease that can cause death within a few days, especially when not treated immediately.
Are Porcupines Deadly To Pets?
Porcupines can be especially dangerous to small pets such as cats and dogs. Dogs are most likely to go after a porcupine, and chances are they will not win the fight. Also, pets tend to make porcupines upset and aggressive.
A porcupine will instantly perceive a cat or dog as a threat. Therefore, they will become hostile and attack with their most famous line of defense, their quills.
The quills are dangerous and painful to remove. They become even more tricky to remove from pets than from yourself.
For starters, the dog will rub its face if it has spikes embedded in it. This only drives them deeper into the skin. Removing them will be a great challenge and, sometimes, even impossible.
In some instances, pets have died after an encounter with a porcupine.
If a porcupine spikes your dog or cat, the best advice is to find a vet to administer treatment immediately. When you wait longer, your pet will keep rubbing at the quills, which drives them further into the skin. Some may even break inside the skin.
Furthermore, when left inside your pet’s body, quills will become brittle, pulling them out much harder.
What are the Health Risks to my Pet?
Porcupines pose a significant health risk to your pet. Your pet may contract a porcupine disease that can potentially kill it. However, fatal infections arise from porcupine quills lodged deep in the skin.
What Happens if a Porcupine Spikes my Pet?
Pulling out quills from your pet on your own is never advisable. It will be excruciating for your pet, and you may cause further damage. Try to minimize your pet’s movements and take the pet to a veterinarian immediately.
The veterinarian will give your pet a sedative or anesthesia before pulling out the quills. This is done so that the entire process is painless and safe.
Many of the quills will be safely pulled out, but those that have gone deeper will be left alone. The spikes that are not removed will mainly be monitored for movements or complications.
Can you touch a Porcupine?
A majority of people would not even think of touching a porcupine. After all, who would want to connect an animal with sharp spikes covering almost its entire body?
Many people don’t know that porcupines can be kept as pets. This means that it is possible to touch a porcupine.
If you want to pet a porcupine, you have to be very gentle. As long as the porcupine is relaxed and not startled, it will generally not cause you any harm. There is also no need to worry about sharp spikes because the porcupine will not prick you when the animal is calm.
Do not take this information to mean that you can touch every porcupine you come across. Things may not end very well for you. You can only handle a pet porcupine because it has been trained to interact with humans. On the other hand, wild porcupines are better off when left alone.
What Happens if Porcupine Quills are not Removed?
Porcupine quills must be pulled out as quickly as possible from humans and pets. They can become fatal if left inside the body for a long time.
The quills are meant to be the porcupine’s defense against predators. The quills are designed so that it’s easy for them to get inside the skin but extremely difficult to come out.
The quills are carriers of bacteria. When left on the skin, they can cause infections, which can be life-threatening. Furthermore, if a porcupine quills a human or pet, both risk developing a porcupine disease such as rabies, which can ultimately result in death.
Aside from the risk of infections, some quills can get broken and remain lodged in the soft tissues, which is the most common in pets. The quills are driven deep into the skin when the pet moves and even break.
The broken quills start migrating within the tissues and may end up in the joints, eyes, or internal organs. This mainly results in abscesses. In rare occurrences, the quills can move within the pet’s body and reach the brain, causing life-threatening complications.
Quills not removed immediately tend to get deeper into the skin rather than come out. Hence, the deeper they move into the skin, the more difficult it will be to get them out. This puts your pet at risk of developing a severe infection.
Are Porcupines Poisonous?
Porcupines are not venomous, and their quills do not contain poison. The quills alone are a perfect defense mechanism. You will likely get infections from their quills and diseases such as rabies or tick fever.
Are Porcupines Afraid of Humans?
Porcupines are afraid of humans and tend to run away when confronted. This is one of the reasons why they are mainly nocturnal.
A porcupine will only attack if cornered and can no longer flee. At first, it gives a warning sign by stamping its feet and raising the quills to make it look bigger.
If you remain undeterred and do not back away, the animal will have no option but to charge you. Porcupines rarely attack humans unless they are disturbed.
These animals fear humans and perceive them the way they would predators. Porcupines will not bite you or your pets. They only use their spikes to attack an intruder.
How do I Minimize the Chances of my Pet Having a Confrontation With Porcupines?
The best way to protect your pets from porcupines is by minimizing confrontations between the two. Look out for areas that may be dens for porcupines so that you can prevent your pet from visiting.
Dogs are curious and stick their muzzles into a porcupine’s den.
It would be best not to allow your dog to walk into wooded areas at dusk or dawn. Porcupines are nocturnal, and these are the times they are most active and are out hunting.
There is a greater chance of a confrontation if this is a porcupine habitat. If this happens, your dog may return with a muzzle full of quills.
Please keep your dog under a leash, so it does not roam around. Only let it out if you are sure there are no porcupines in the area. The same goes for cats. Remember that treating your pets for quills is a long, tedious, and expensive process, so better to be safe than sorry.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.