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Nature Talks author Cheryl Kimball stepped out her porch door to take a picture of this porcupine 10 feet away, who was focused on eating the tender clover sprouting in front of the small brick patio. Porcupines do not tend to be aggressive. Adult females, which can begin breeding as young as 10 months old, are busy having babies this time of year.

THE NORTH AMERICAN porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is perhaps the most misunderstood mammal we encounter here in New Hampshire. A rodent second in size only to the beaver, porcupines don’t seem concerned about living in proximity to humans. I have lived with them wandering around our yard and barn for almost 30 years. And I have become rather fond of porcupines, to the point that I would consider them my favorite wild mammal.

Yes, I have had dogs, and horses, quilled. And yes, it was unpleasant for the dog and for my wallet when the dog had to see a veterinarian to get the quills out. But that isn’t the porcupine’s fault. It isn’t even the porcupine’s decision — chomp down on a porcupine and its quills release and get stuck in the chomper’s mouth and anywhere else that the chomper’s body came in contact with the porky.

You have probably heard it a million times now, but porcupines do not, in fact cannot, “throw” their quills. While they do release from the porcupine’s body somewhat easily, it is only after the barb on the outer end has stuck into whatever came in contact with the quill. The barb does what barbs are intended to do: lock in the skin so they can’t easily come out, like the fish on your baited hook.

Because of the barbs, these quills hurt a bit when removed so it is best to take your dog to your veterinarian for quill removal. There they can be sedated and can be checked thoroughly, including deep in the mouth, ears and nostrils for quills you might miss if your dog is less than thrilled with having this painful procedure done without sedation.

Porcupines typically only have one baby at a time — known adorably as a porcupette. Not only is the name “porcupette” adorable but the little baby is absolutely adorable as well. The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, managed to get a video of a porcupine in their care nursing her porcupette. Although ultimately the porcupette did not make it (which is very sad and the cruel reality for wildlife rehabilitators), this is something most of us are likely to never ever see so the video was very interesting to watch. The Millstone Wildlife Center in Windham recently posted the information that at around three weeks of age although still nursing a baby porcupine will go on short foraging trips — porcupines are herbivores — with mom.

Porcupettes are born with quills but they are, not surprisingly, soft; the quills harden with keratin quickly. Although their quills are appropriately sized for their little bodies, they can still cause problems for anything that grabs a porcupette. A border collie mix we had when we first moved to our farm came into the house one evening pawing at her mouth and turning her head upside down on the rug. I had recently seen a friend’s dog make this same motion and we found she had a stick jammed across the roof of her mouth. With that episode in mind, I looked in Dot’s mouth to find her upper palate covered in short little quills. The emergency veterinarian took 145 quills out of Dot’s mouth.

There is nothing in porcupine quills to transfer anything to your dog (although if left embedded they can get infected). Your veterinarian may recommend a rabies booster for a quilled dog but that is because who knows what else went on with the encounter, not because the quills will transfer something like rabies (which is in saliva). Porcupines are incredibly docile animals and are unlikely to pick a fight. Their best protection is their quills.

And the best protection for your dog is to avoid porcupine encounters. I have become pretty aware of the habits of our resident porcupines. They tend to leave their den under the barn in the evening and return in the morning. Both trips are usually under cover of darkness but at this time of year, they seem a bit less nocturnal. I often play ball with our yellow Lab in our big driveway/barnyard but do it in the morning when the porkies have hopefully tucked in for the day.

Inevitably, and sadly, our porcupine residents occasionally get hit by cars. Although it is thought by wildlife rehabilitators that many hit-by-car wildlife have underlying issues like rodenticide poisoning that make them less able to judge avoiding cars, porcupines are slow movers (although I have seem them hustle back to their den when feeling threatened!). Despite the fact that there are hundreds of acres behind us, they still choose to cross the road. I have moved many porcupine roadkills to the side of the road to save scavengers from becoming roadkill themselves; I use this chance to see the porcupine up close and personal. But I would rather see them alive and tottering out to the back forty — where their main predators are fishers and bobcats — than down the driveway to the road.


Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at