Bobcat dies from porcupine quill injury
In early March, the bodies of a bobcat and a deer were found together on a frozen lake in mid-central Ontario. The bodies were located near the shore, close to some cedar trees, away from human activity and habitation. There was curiosity and concern over how this came to happen, and whether poisoning or some other human action had been involved in causing the deaths of these two animals.
The carcasses of the deer and bobcat were submitted for post-mortem at the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at the University of Guelph. Upon examination, the deer, which was a young male weighing 40 kg, was found to be in emaciated body condition, with no subcutaneous or internal fat stores present. It had been eating low quality, coarse roughage and the digestive tract did not contain anything that would lead to a suspicion of poisoning, nor was there any evidence of significant disease detected. The carcass had been partially scavenged, with the exposed skin and muscle of the left side of the head and neck having been consumed. There was also a small amount of scavenging of the left hind limb, but the body cavity had not been opened.
The carcass of the bobcat was intact, with no signs of trauma. It was in fair body condition but its mucus membranes were very pale, suggesting that it had lost significant amounts of blood. A single porcupine quill was found embedded in the roof of the mouth. A significant amount of free and clotted blood was present in the chest cavity. It was found to originate from the vena cava, the major blood vessel bringing blood back to the heart: it had been penetrated by two porcupine quills which were still embedded in the adjacent muscle. The cause of death was severe blood loss.
Porcupines are well protected by their spiny quills and many animals will not attempt to attack them. However, several species including bobcat, lynx, fisher, wolverine, coyote and great horned owl are known to attempt to prey upon porcupines. Porcupine quills are constructed with multiple overlapping, backward-pointing barbs that allow the quill to continue to move in its original direction but impede its removal in the opposite direction. For this reason, once embedded in an animal, quills will continue to move in that direction, aided by the muscular contractions and movements of the victim. In most cases, they probably come to rest in a location in which they do little or no harm. It is not unusual to find quills immobilized in muscle or in the abdomen. However, by chance and bad luck, the quills may migrate in a direction that causes damage to a vital organ. For this reason, it is important that all quills be removed from pets should they have an encounter with a porcupine.