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A few good things to know about porcupine encounters with your dog

porcupineAs spring is turning into summer, you may pleasantly find yourself spending more time with Rover walking in natural areas, dog parks, and camping. Such lovely activities sometimes bring not-so-lovely encounters with our spiny friend, the porcupine. With such encounters, some dogs will learn their lesson on the first go around with quills, but, believe it or not, some are repeat offenders!

The porcupine: Porcupines do not hibernate and are active year-round (much less so in the winter months). They are nocturnal animals but can be found out and about during the day, especially in warmer months. As they are a small animal with slow movements, they become very fascinating targets of inspection for a dog sniffing curiously through the brush or grass. Porcupines do not throw their quills, but are quite capable of releasing hundreds on contact with a perceived predator.

Rover and the porcupine: Generally, there are two types of dogs who get quilled…

Type 1: The “Cautious Sniffer” who gets a bit too close to have a peek at this fun looking puffy playmate. The result is often 10-20 quills in their muzzle, possibly including their tongue. After the unfortunate event, everyone goes their separate ways, with many dogs learning a valuable life lesson!

Type 2: The “I Must Kill the Porcupine” dog. These are the ones that fight the porcupine, chew on it, stomp on it, try to eat it and possibly roll on it afterwards. These dogs may not learn a lesson and often become repeat offenders with more quills each time.

quills in dogQuill removal: Regardless of how severe the quills are, they are painful and are best removed under sedation by your local veterinarian. Each quill has tiny barbs on it to allow it to stay imbedded, and this can lead to migration of the quill. Migration into the chest, abdomen, joints, eyes, or vital organs may occur, potentially causing significant health problems, and (rarely) death. It is therefore important to remove all quills if possible. Note that animals who have been quilled will sometimes break off the quills themselves, leaving the barbed end embedded in their skin. It is advised to have your pet seen as soon as you are able to have the quills properly removed.

Be cautious of what you may find about quill removal on the internet, as some websites encourage cutting the quills to “release pressure” or “deflate” the quills. Quills do not hold pressure nor do they deflate, please do not cut the quills short before bringing the dog in for quill removal. Cut short, there is simply less to grasp to properly remove the quill, and can lead to missed quills because they are more difficult to find!

Hopefully Rover (and you) never deal with an encounter with one of these prickly critters! If you do, here’s to hoping Rover is the “Type 1” dog!

dogs playing at dog park edmontonSpring time is upon us and the urge to get out and run around is here! Our four legged friends (dogs in particular) have been somewhat cooped up all winter and may possibly have a little winter weight to burn off. What better place to do this than the off-leash park!!

The city of Edmonton boasts numerous off-leash sites, with one of the more popular ones being the Terwillegar dog park.

There are a few things to consider prior to going to the park with good ol’ Rover:

  • Are vaccines and deworming up to date? Updated vaccines including kennel cough, rabies and the distemper/parvo combination are recommended to prevent/minimize contagious disease transmission.
    • Off-leash parks can be a good place to pick up parasites, it is recommended to have your dog on a regular schedule of deworming at the discretion of your veterinarian.
    • It’s tick season! Yes, ticks are in Edmonton and surrounding areas (boo!). Specific medications to prevent ticks and other parasites can be obtained from our veterinarian. In addition, it is good practice to check your pet (and yourself) for ticks after trolling through long grass! If you find a tick that has bitten your dog, bring it in to your local veterinarian to be sent for Lyme disease testing.
  • Does your dog like/tolerate other dogs? If Fido goes into fight mode when seeing other dogs, then an on-leash park would be a better alternative.
  • Will your dog come back when called (also known as having good recall)?
    • Some breeds with a very strong tracking focus (Beagles and Hounds for example) may get intent on a scent/object in the distance and end up wandering off and getting lost.
    • Others with a strong prey drive may wind up chasing a rabbit or goose until they are not sure which direction they came from!
    • Puppies just don’t know any better!
    • Practicing recall before letting your dog off-leash at the park is a great idea, and they will probably love the treats!
  • Is your dog licensed? The fine for not having a valid pet license is $250…ouch!
  • Unfortunately, dogs do not always see eye to eye with one another and a fight may ensue. Where possible, if it looks like Rover is not getting along with Fido (e.g. hackles up, posturing, growling, teeth baring, staring), try to safely prevent the altercation before it goes any further.
  • The chances of running into and having altercations with wildlife such as porcupines, coyotes and skunks is quite low, however it still exists! All the more reason to ensure your dog has good recall before letting them off-leash :)
  • Lastly, be cautious of the river, it can have a strong undertow and be more dangerous than it looks!
  • If your pet gets separated from you, having a microchip and a collar with your information on a tag prove very successful at reuniting dogs with their owners.

Dog at parkDog parks are a great way to get out for some fresh air and exercise, and a tired pooch is a happy pooch! Following the tips above will help to ensure your off-leash experience is an excellent one. Happy walking!

Click here to find your nearest off-leash park

overweight dogAn estimated 30% of pets are either significantly overweight or obese

Obesity in cats and dogs has become a growing problem over the past several years. An estimated 30% of pets are either significantly overweight or obese. Many reasons exist, but it primarily boils down to not enough exercise and too many calories. Genetics, disease, and metabolism play a role, but to a lesser degree.


Health Concerns:

Health concerns can occur when a pet is obese. Excess stress on the joints from unneeded weight occurs, leading to earlier and/or more significant arthritis and resulting arthritic pain. This in turn leads to less voluntary activity which compounds both problems. Breathing difficulties occur especially in short nosed breeds. Extra fat in the throat and around the chest make tracheal (wind pipe) collapse more prevalent and full lung expansion more difficult. The pet also overheats more easily, making exercise difficult as well as dealing with the heat. Diabetes is very common, especially in obese cats. If an obese cat ever goes off food for whatever reason, body fat is used for energy and this can lead to excess fat deposition in the liver (hepatic lipidosis) and potential liver failure.


obese catWhat Can Be Done:

Extra calories that are not required to maintain a lean body mass contribute to weight gain. Here are a few tips to aid in cutting back those unnecessary calories:

  • Measure meal feedings – most bags of food have feeding guidelines. Every pet has a different requirement and may need more or less food than suggested depending on their age, activity level, and metabolism. Using a lower calorie, higher fiber food often helps keep them full.
  • Treats are a great way to bond with your pets. Remember, the pets’ reward is that they are getting something from you, they don’t care how large of a treat it is. Breaking the treat into smaller bits or using kibbles of food as treats are effective ways of controlling the caloric intake.
  • Exercise is important to burn fat. Lean muscle mass promotes fat burning and increased metabolism. It is important to start slow and gradually increase the exercise levels over time, all the while evaluating the tolerance levels of the pet. For example, start off with an extra 5 minutes of walking per day and gradually increase, or toss the mouse toy for the cat an extra 5 minutes. Swimming for dogs is a great low impact form of exercise.
  • If you have a little one in the house, it may be a good idea to separate the pet from the dinner table if there are children dropping (or sneaking) extra food.
  • So many times I’ve heard the pet has gained weight while staying at someone else’s house (Grandma and Grandpa I’m looking at you!). Try measuring out your pet’s meals and treats ahead of time with strict instructions (and, um…good luck…. 😉


What To Look For:

Some general rules of thumb to evaluate ideal adult body condition include:

  • It should be possible to feel the ribs while having a small amount of padding.
  • Viewing the pet from the side, there should be a tuck where the belly meets the hind legs.
  • Viewing the pet from above, there should be an “hourglass” shape.



As some of us know all too well, the aging process is (unfortunately) inevitable, and the same goes for our pets. The golden years for a cat or dog may be barely noticeable for some as they are still running laps after that pesky squirrel in the yard, however others may look and feel their age! Just like us, each individual is unique with regards to how their minds and body change with the aging process.

Caring for Aging Pets

Common Health Issues:

Good news! With advancing veterinary care over the past 15 to 20 years, our pets tend to not only live longer, they often have a better quality of life in those later years. New medications, specialized foods, advanced diagnostics, and specialist care are now readily available to help diagnose and treat common health problems elderly pets experience. Examples of such health issues found in senior pets are; kidney disease, heart disease, dental disease, and unfortunately cancer. Regular veterinary care plays an important role in prevention, early recognition where possible, and guiding diagnostic and treatment recommendations should a health problem arise.

Loss of Hearing and Sight:

The gradual loss of eyesight and hearing can be commonplace. To aid those elders with loss of sight, keep the pet’s environment the same as possible, as adding changes to their environment when they know their way around by memory often proves to be stressful. In addition, dim light may make it difficult to navigate high places such as stairs, beds, and couches. Hearing loss, depending on the severity, often results in a suddenly startled pet especially when awakened from a deep sleep. This unnerving “shock” may result in an instinctive nip out of fear. Teaching children and visitors to be aware of this fact is very important to avoid insult, if not injury. If the hearing is still partially functional, a hand clap or foot stomp may be enough to gain the attention required to not have that sudden fright.

They are Embarrassed Too:

Bathroom accidents may become more prevalent as pets age. Cats may start going beside the litter box (or elsewhere) as time goes on. Dogs may simply go to the door to be let out and not be able to hold it, or they forget they have just gone and ask to be let out (again)! Difficulty rising, moving, or posturing for the process can also impede the ability to “go”. This can be related to arthritis and/or muscle weakness, or constipation. If this is a problem for your pet, speak with your veterinarian as there are supplements and medications that can help with the process.

Mobility and Comfort:

You can help set up your senior furry loved one for success by providing ramps, lower litter boxes, extra comfy bedding, and steps (so they can still get on your bed)! Patience, reassurance, and working with your veterinarian are great ways to help keep those golden years golden.

To learn more about our Edmonton veterinary services click here.


Has this ever happened to your pet? It’s a lovely spring day when you and Fido are out planting the flowers in the garden. Naturally Fido is curious about the interesting things around him – old grass, bark, twigs, and OH WOW – a yellow flying thing that buzzes! Looks like THAT thing should be eaten right away! Next thing you know his face is double the size and he looks like a walking cartoon caricature.

allergies and pets - MacTaggart Vet Clinic Edmonton

Allergic reactions in pets are a common concern. The majority of reactions occur in dogs, but occasionally cats are affected as well. Interestingly, certain breeds of dogs such as Boston Terriers, Boxers, and Dachshunds, (to name a few) are more susceptible. An allergic reaction can be caused by any number of things including; insect bites, plants, pollens, dust, molds or foods to which that particular animal is overly sensitive, medication, and injections. Unless the offending item or insect is actually SEEN being ingested or biting the animal, often the underlying cause of the allergic reaction remains a mystery.

Allergic reactions can range from mild (hives, swelling) to severe (anaphylaxis – vomiting, difficulty breathing, shock). Symptoms most often seen are signs of facial swelling, especially around the eyes, lips, muzzle and sometimes the ears. Often there is pronounced itchiness accompanying the swelling. Another symptom can be “hives” under the skin which are small localized swellings over the majority of the body, and these may or may not be itchy. Fortunately, anaphylaxis, where the animal goes into shock and can be life threatening, is rare. Vomiting, staggering, and/or difficulty breathing can be an indication of a serious reaction occurring, therefore it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately should you observe any of these symptoms.

Any time an allergic reaction is suspected, treatment at a veterinary clinic is recommended to stop the swelling and make the animal more comfortable. Prolonged swelling and itchiness can lead to self-trauma and infection. Depending on the severity of the allergic reaction, a variety of medications may be administered. Typically, the prognosis is excellent for slowing/stopping the progression of the swelling and getting things back to normal.

Prevention can be quite difficult, unless a specific allergen known to have caused a reaction in the past is avoidable. Fortunately rapid treatment by your veterinarian is usually quite successful in managing these unfortunate incidents.

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