Cottage Critter Dangers

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Cottage Critter Dangers

It is a time of year when many people are looking forward to cottage visits, camping trips and other excursions that allow close encounters with nature. I suspect if you could ask pets with similar upcoming opportunities, they would be equally as excited. Participation in such activities does, however, increase the risk of contact with wildlife "critters" that may pose some danger to our pets.

Let's begin with porcupines. Chances are that anyone who has had a pet try to get up close and personal with this wildlife species, remembers the consequences only too well. Although practicing in this part of Ontario means I have to deal with this problem much less frequently than my colleagues further north, I certainly cannot forget the cases I have seen. It is usually a problem in dogs - especially those dogs who just cannot resist sniffing, mouthing or checking out that big slow moving creature covered with quills, waddling about in the woods. A porcupine does not shoot quills, it just releases them at the appropriate time, usually when the dog's face is nice and close. This action can result in tens or hundreds of quills becoming embedded in the dog's nose, face, lips, mouth and throat or any other body part that has come close to them. The quills bury themselves deeply in the skin and are usually firmly anchored there. If not promptly removed, they penetrate further into the skin and tissues underneath. Migration into these deeper tissues can make them very difficult to find and remove and may cause serious complications.  

So, if your pet has a run-in with a porcupine, what should you do?  Well, the embedded quills will be very painful for the dog. The animal usually will paw or rub its face in attempts to remove them. This will likely only cause the quills to work deeper in the skin or to break, leaving parts more hidden. It is very important to try and stop the dog from pawing its face. If the pet has been lucky and has avoided getting quills in the mouth, it may be possible for the owner to remove them. The dog will need to be calmed and gently but firmly restrained. For some dogs it may be necessary to apply a muzzle to avoid being bitten. Remember, the dog is hurting, frightened, and may not understand efforts to remove the quills are meant to be helpful. The quill should be grasped with small pliers, as close to the skin as possible, and steadily pulled straight out. It will be important to thoroughly check the entire body, by looking and feeling, to be sure there are no quills, not immediately visible. Quills can range from one-half to four inches in length. They are not always easily spotted.

If a dog has a large number of quills, quills in the mouth or there is concern some may have broken off beneath the skin, seek veterinary attention immediately. In such cases it likely will be necessary to give the dog a general anesthetic in order to be sure all the quills are removed. If properly removed there should be an uneventful recovery from the problem and hopefully the pet will have learned a lesson from Mother Nature to avoid porcupines in the future.  

Another, even more innocent looking, creature that can cause anguish for pets and owners is a skunk. Once again it is most likely that it will be the front end, usually the face or neck area of the pet that will have taken the most direct and therefore most potent hit of skunk spray. The skunk is able to propel the contents of its anal sacs, one located on each side of the anus, to discourage harassment, investigation or attention from a dog or cat. Anyone who has smelled the results of such a meeting is unlikely to forget it. Of course, most often it is after dark or in the evening when the incident occurs.

How do you de-skunk a pet who has been skunked?  First, it is best done outside or in a closed room - avoid, if possible that odour drifting throughout the house. Tomato juice is over-rated as the soaking material. It does not effectively remove the smell. Here's the current best home-made deodourizing recipe. Bathe the animal in a mixture of 1 liter (1 quart) of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 50 ml. (1/4 cup) of baking soda and 5 ml. (1 teaspoon) liquid detergent. After 5 minutes, rinse the animal with water. Be careful to protect the pet's eyes from contact with the solution. (If the pet has been sprayed directly in the eyes by the skunk, they will be quite irritated and a veterinarian may need to be consulted.) The bathing mixture must be used immediately after mixing and cannot be stored. There are reports of temporary bleaching of some pet's hair. Any clothes or towels that are contaminated with skunk spray during the bathing can be washed with one cup of liquid laundry bleach per gallon of water. There are also good commercially available products that neutralize and deodourize skunk spray. I would suggest purchasing some from your veterinarian and taking it along as part of your pet supplies for the cottage.