Ocular injuries resulting from accidental contact with cactus spines or other plant foreign bodies are often seen in dogs or cats in the desert area. Corneal punctures, abrasions and lacerations from cactus spines are not the only type of corneal foreign body injuries we see. Foreign bodies such as grass awns, bristles, thorns, small stones and even popcorn kernels can adhere to the cornea, leading to corneal ulceration, infection, or rupture. Minor injuries may heal without treatment by formation of scar tissue. More serious injuries may require surgery.
Long cactus spines embedded within the cornea may extend into the deeper tissues of the eye including the iris and lens. These embedded spines are difficult to remove safely without surgery. During surgery a precise corneal incision is often required to free the spine from the cornea. If this is required the incision is then surgically repaired to prevent leakage of the fluid from the eye and seal the wound. In some cases a foreign body may be found completely inside the eye, requiring a more complicated procedure involving a larger incision to facilitate removal.
More commonly we find patients with ocular discomfort associated with small cactus spines embedded in the pink tissue around the eye (conjunctiva). These spines may cause discomfort if they abrade the corneal surface. These tiny bristles require magnification for visualization, and removal is usually performed under anesthesia with the aid of an operating microscope. These bristles may also migrate beneath the conjunctival surface and may not be visible, even with the aid of magnification. If they break through the conjunctival surface, a process which may occur days to weeks following initial exposure a second procedure to remove additional spines may be required.
Large cactus spines that contact the iris or lens must be surgically removed in order to prevent serious potential ocular complications that may lead to vision loss. Inflammation or infections as a result of the trauma can result and may require intensive treatment to control. If surgical intervention is required you should be aware of potential complications associated with sedation or anesthesia. Post-operative ocular complications may include corneal or conjunctival inflammation, breakdown of the incision site, infections at the surgical site or within the eye itself. Corneal injuries may result in permanent corneal scarring. More rarely, severe complications such as rupture of the cornea, severe infection or ulceration; high pressure within the eye (glaucoma), inflammation or uveitis; retinal detachment or degeneration, ocular or orbital pain may develop. Some of these complications from the initial trauma or after surgery can lead to loss of vision.
If you have any question about this information please contact your veterinarian.