A variety of cacti thrive in Arizona. The most common are the prickly pear, cholla, saguaro, hedgehog cactus, barrel cactus and button cactus. In addition to the large obvious spines, many of these species have tiny translucent spines called ‘glochids’ that easily embed into tissue. These spines covering local cacti, especially the prickly pear and cholla, are a frequent source of injury to the eyes of dogs and cats.
At Eye Care for Animals, we treat many patients who present with spines impaled in or around the eye. These spines can even penetrate the eye and damage intraocular tissue, such as the iris or lens. Whether the injury is on the surface or deep within the eye, cactus injuries require treatment. Without proper treatment, complications can be vision-threatening or even eye-threatening.
Our goal in treating cactus-related eye injuries is to ensure the health of our patients’ eyes and promote ocular comfort.
Cactus spines embedded in conjunctival and corneal surfaces cause severe irritation and damage to surrounding ocular tissue; thus, these spines must be removed. Some spines can be removed with topical anesthesia, but more often general anesthesia and an operating microscope are required. If the spine leaves a large defect in the cornea, reconstructive surgery or direct suturing of the corneal tissue may be necessary to close the wound. This is often the case with spines that pierce through the entire cornea. Spines that damage the lens can cause cataract and inflammation, which may require more extensive intraocular surgery.
Whether surgery is required or not can only be determined with an ophthalmic examination. Additionally, all cactus-related eye injuries are at risk of infection – either bacterial, fungal or both. Topical and oral medications may be required to control infection, inflammation, and pain involved in this type of injury. And yes – your pet will likely have to wear a cone for at least a short amount of time, but the good news is that these type of eye injuries often heal with minimal complications.