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Akorn Pharmaceuticals


Cactus-Related Eye Injuries

Cactus-Related Eye Injuries A variety of cacti thrive in Arizona, the most common of which are the prickly pear, cholla, saguaro, hedgehog cactus, barrel cactus and button cactus. The bristles and spines covering these cacti, especially the prickly pear and cholla are a frequent source of injuries in dogs’ and cats’ eyes.

At Eye Care for Animals, we often treat patients who present with spines impaled in or around the eye. These spines may penetrate the surface of the eye, reaching intraocular tissue, such as the iris or lens.

Foreign bodies such as cactus spines may cause corneal ulcers (wounds/scratches). Corneal ulcerations cause discomfort, corneal inflammation and risk of infection. Left untreated these corneal wounds can be vision threatening.


Our goal in treating cactus-related eye injuries is to ensure the health of patients’ eyes and promote patients’ comfort.

Cactus spines are commonly embedded in the conjunctival and corneal surfaces. Spines embedded in the conjunctival surface cause severe irritation and damage surrounding ocular tissue such as the cornea. Thus, these spines must be removed to improve comfort and prevent corneal ulcerations. If the spine leaves a large defect in the cornea, grafting surgery or direct suturing of the corneal tissue may be necessary to close the wound.

In contrast, patients can occassionally tolerate very small spines embedded in the cornea. We often find tiny spines embedded within the cornea as an incidental finding in patients that present for evaluations of other ocular conditions.

Large cactus spines that penetrate the cornea and reach the iris or lens must be treated like punctures, which can cause both corneal and intraocular complications. We begin treatment by removing the cactus spine, after which we often seal the puncture with sutures or a conjunctival graft to promote rapid healing. The vast majority of these procedures are performed under an operating microscope with the patient under general anesthesia. Anti-inflammatory medications are important to control inflammation of the ocular structures. We also use topical antibacterial drugs to prevent secondary bacterial and fungal infections to which cactus spines can give rise.

Occasionally a small penetrating injury to the lens can be treated medically which may adequately control intraocular inflammation in these cases. However, in cases of large lens lacerations we may have to surgically remove the lens. The extent of damage will determine if an artificial lens can be placed. We remove the lens only when we cannot otherwise control intraocular information.

Not all foreign body eye injuries require surgical intervention. If surgical intervention is recommended, your doctor will discuss the procedure as well as relevant benefits and risks specific to your pets case. Any surgical procedure can introduce complications, including potential anesthetic risks. Surgical procedures that involve the cornea seldom give rise to complications, which occur in less than five percent of these cases. Potential complications include, but are not limited to, inflammation of the pink tissue around the eye (conjunctivitis); break down of the tissue or suture at the surgical site (wound dehiscence/graft retraction/rejection); infections at the surgical site, which may extend to other internal and/or external areas of the eye; corneal ulcerations ; migration of foreign bodies; corneal scarring, vascularization, or mineralization; eye rupture; inflammation inside the eye (uveitis); high pressure within the eye (glaucoma); retinal detachment or degeneration; or bleeding inside the eye (hyphema). Some of these complications can lead to blindness, but many of them can be successfully treated and managed with early intervention. Adherence to the post-operative medication and recheck schedule is critical to minimizing risk of complications.

If you have any question about this information please contact your veterinarian.