July 16, 2019

Helping a Dog After a Run-In With a Cactus

Is this a thing? It totally is! Knowing how to help a dog who’s lost a fight with a cactus isn’t something you need...until you do. 


There are dozens of species of cactus native to the United States. Each harbors hundreds or thousands of quills (or spines, or thorns) used by the plant to defend itself from wildlife. Yes, even your dog. As cacti become an increasingly popular fixture in drought-tolerant landscaping schemes, understanding what to do if your dog comes into contact with one can save you both a lot of pain. 

Immediately After a Cactus Encounter

First things first: let’s determine how bad the situation really is. There are some cacti run-ins that definitely necessitate a visit to the closest emergency veterinary clinic. 

If your dog is panicking and distressed? Head to the emergency vet. 

If your dog has been punctured in the eye or other highly-sensitive area? Head to the emergency vet. 

If your dog ate some cacti that had large, hard spines? Head to the emergency vet.

This is a good time to note that cacti are not poisonous to dogs. If your dog actually ingested some of the cactus you need to be far more concerned about the spines than the makeup of the cactus flesh itself. 

Removing Cactus Spines from Your Dog

Unless your pooch had a particularly severe interaction with a cactus, you’re probably facing down several, if not dozens of cactus spines in your dog’s skin. At this point, you have a choice: allow a veterinarian to remove them or attempt to remove them yourself. 

You’re best off heading straight to the nearest vet’s office if there are more than a couple dozen spines, the spines are particularly long, hard, or strong, or if the spines are stuck close to sensitive parts of your dog’s face, such as near the eyes or ears. 

If you want to attempt to remove the spines yourself, you’ll need a few things: Antibiotic ointment, sterilized tweezers, a clean towel, and a second pair of hands

One person should start by holding the dog steady while the older pulls out any obviously loose or shallow spines using the tweezers in the direction of the fur growth. (Never use your hands! You could easily get “stuck” yourself.) Use the tweezers to remove any spines that are deeply lodged against the grain of the fur by pulling as gently as possible in the direction the spine is stuck. 

There is likely to be bleeding! Some canine puncture wounds can even “spurt” blood, but don’t be alarmed if the bleeding stops quickly. Be sure to treat each and every spot where you removed a spine with antibiotic ointment immediately. 

When to Call the Vet

If your dog is obviously distressed or in a great deal of pain, go ahead and call the veterinarian. Sedating an injured dog is sometimes the most effective way to treat it; cactus problems are no exception. 

For those who choose to remove cactus spines themselves, it’s critical to keep a close eye out for infection in the days to come. Fever, lethargy, or changes in appetite, energy, or behavior can all be indicative of a secondary infection. If you’re worried, contact your vet. 

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