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  • Lisa Parsons

Rolly Polly Cholla Babies



“Bring Pliers!”

Cholla, those round things on top are the Cholla babies

I texted David while holding Taz’s paw that had a large Cholla baby sticking to the back of his front right foot. I say Cholla baby because these round babies fall off the mother plant and roll away to start new Chollas. All around the Cholla momma are little prickly round babies just waiting for an animal…or human to step with their paw (or foot) right on them.

I learned an important lessen from a previous encounter with these unforgiving plants. Never try to remove Cholla spines with your fingers. If you do attempt to remove a cholla spine with your fingers they will become part of the equation. If I reached down to “save the dog” I would be stuck to the Cholla baby that is stuck to Taz.

I hope the text goes through…but it doesn’t. I am wondering what to do. I realize that the spines are stuck to the back of his foot and not under the pad so I make him walk the short distance back to the van. Muttering on how dogs seem to find there way into everything I don’t want them to.

When we reach the van I open the door and exclaim. “We have our first cactus injury”. Followed by “Do you have the leatherman tool?” David digs into his pack and pulls out this vital desert survival tool. Removing Cholla spines from a dog is a two person job. I hold Taz and his paw while David takes the leatherman and extracts the cluster of Cholla spines and then picks out the left over spines embedded in his paw. Taz quietly as we worked.

David and Taz Along a Backcountry Road

We knew it was going to happen sooner than later when you have free range dogs. Not only did it happen that time but Taz has gotten them in his paws to more times and Mica has gotten Cholla in her feet four times. At the time of this revision she managed to get a cluster of Cholla spines stuck in her mouth this morning as she was trying to remove one from her foot. I came around the van and saw her with an odd look on her face. It looked like she wanted to snarl but was holding back and drooling a bit. At first I thought she was gearing up to play but then I realized something else was going on. After a quick inspection which required me to pry her jaws apart I realized that she had gotten the spines stuck to the roof of her mouth. “David, I yelled, get the leatherman tool”. He held her jaw open while I pulled out the spines. Will she ever learn?

The time before that, it was after she took off after a hare. She left the road and in a frenzy of the chase ran through the cactus, picked up some spines in not just one, but two paws. She came limping back to us holding her front paw up and shaking. She was shaking because she knew she was in trouble not because of the pain.

Beautiful Cholla bloom and a closeup of their vicious spines

Dogs can be a challenge on the road and in the wilds. We know that for them to be perfectly safe we could keep them on leash or in the van but that isn’t how we want to live with our dogs. The hare was safe, the dogs get spines from cactus in their feet, they may even get bit by a rattler…or quilled by a porcupine but that is life (yes, the last two of those have happened to the dogs). Without risk there isn’t adventure and a life well lived is better than a long safe life without the high peaks, desert roads, and the unexpected.

Just a typical day for adventure dog Mica

Here are a few key things to have in case your dog gets bit by a baby Cholla.

Leatherman tool by Gerber. Indespensible for removing cholla spines and other prickly things from your dog.

Corona Ointment We use because it is an all around salve that we can use to moisturize dry pads and human hands, and lather on to cuts, scrapes, burns, and dry skin.

This is always good to have these on the trail and off. On the trail you can put htem on if their pads get worn by course granite, lava rock, corn snow, or other rough surfaces. Also it can protect their paws if they cut them on something. Yesterday our dog, Taz, tore a toenail off of his rear foot. We had to clean and disinfect the wound, wrap it in gauze, and put the booty on to protect his paw.

Doggy / First Aid kit. I will cover in future blogs.

How to Remove Cholla Spines

Caution: If you think your dog will bite you (and under duress sometimes they will) put a muzzle on your dog before starting. I’ve been bitten by a previous dog when he was injured because he was fearful. It had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the release of fear and adrenaline which can make dogs react in unpredictable ways. You can also take them to a local emergency vet if you can’t do the job yourself.

If you have two people team up to remove spines. A lot of cactus spines have hooks so just pulling on them may leave the tips embedded. Try to twist them out. This goes for porcupine quills as well. One person holds the dog while the other works to remove the spines. Make sure and double check for additional spines or areas of the body affected. If the area affected has open bleeding wounds try cleaning with water and applying ointment and wrapping the area. For most encounters removal is enough. Watch for signs of limping. This may mean there are still spines embedded in their paws.

( disclaimer. This is how we remove the spines from our dogs. It is a suggestion only and not proven fact. We are not veterinarians just adventurers with dogs.)

Taz chillin out after a day of adventure

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