Hiking, Biking, and exploring the local lakes are three things people love about the desert. In the desert, cacti are an ever present hazard that your dogs must learn to avoid, and a danger that YOU must learn to deal with. Of all the cacti in the desert, prickly pear and cholla in Scottsdale tend to be the 2 most common cacti that cause problems. The varieties of cholla are notorious for falling off the plant with just a glance, and then the sharp, fine thorns get deeply embedded in the paw. Prickly pear cactus can often provide the foundation for rodent nests, and the long sharp spines can embed themselves with ease. Regardless of the cactus type, there are several simple preparations and triage steps that you can take when outdoors to prevent a few cactus thorns from becoming a major problem.
First, always take a pair of needle-nose pliers, and or tweezers with you. The pliers are great for removing large pieces of cactus without risking injury to your self. If your dog permits, the tweezers can be used for removing fine thorns from the paw or muzzle.
“Booties” can be purchased from any pet supply retailer online and can provide protection, but are probably more useful to protect the paw after the fact since they tend to be uncomfortable and not well-tolerated by many dogs. The first instinct your dog will have will be to pull the thorns out. This usually causes dozens of thorns to embed in all the structures of the mouth; a situation your vet is best suited to handling should it occur.
Always have a bandana or a nylon muzzle handy if your dog gets a signifcant amount of cactus embedded in his/her paws. When we see patients who have tangled with a cactus they will often have several dozen thorns in a paw, but several hundred in the mouth. A brief period under anesthesia and lots of manpower is necessary to remove these thorns quickly and efficiently. Once removed, little after care is neccesary. Infections and/or abscesses occur but infrequently. We will often prescribe pain medication for several days which the owner is instructed to give on an as needed basis. The bandana or muzzle can be used to prevent your dog from getting cactus thorns in the mouth AND to protect you if you need to remove thorns out on the trail.
Remember, if you don’t feel comfortable removing the thorns, or your dog has multiple thorns in the mouth contact your vet for assistance. Getting cactus embedded in the paw, muzzle or mouth hurts, but so does getting bit when you try to remove them.