Emergency First Aid for Cholla Removal
In case you currently have a piece of cholla stuck in your body, let me jump straight to the most urgent information.
Easy steps for emergency cholla removal:
- Find a large comb or two rocks bigger than your hands
- Choose a safe direction to fling the cholla
- Place to comb or rocks between cholla and body
- Apply pressure outward
And the lesson…carry a large comb when you think you might encounter cholla.
Monsoon Soon! Desert Hikes will Abound
The monsoon season is right around the corner for the Arizona deserts, and Penny, my (9 year old) puppy, and I are growing very excited. She loves coming out on adventures with me. She get’s to stick her head in holes and smell all the things the world has to offer; and I get to take pictures of it all. We both have some much stimulus to take in!
But in many places throughout the Sonoran Desert, cholla cactus can be found, and they are nasty little buggers. So I take extra special care to keep Penny from getting stuck, especially in her paws.
Puppy Respects the Dangers of the Desert
Penny is a very purposeful mover. She is not spastic, she moves herself carefully and deliberately. Penny recognizes the danger of cactus, and is able to step around it to avoid getting stabbed. Here she has found a spot among a field prickly pear cactus, and the smile on her face indicates no sign of concern.
At least that’s the case with most species of cactus we encounter. The problem with the cholla is that it doesn’t matter how carefully she steps around it, that stuff is like a magnet.
What’s Cholla Precious?
Cholla, (latin name Cylindropuntia Fulgida ) is a species of cactus that we have in abundance in the Sonoran Desert, where I live. A cholla consists of many small, spike-covered sections, called tubercles. These sections easily break off, reroot and begin to grow as a new plant.
The static charge from the fur of a passing animal can easily dislodge pieces and carry it away from the host plant. Because contact is not necessary for the piece to separate from the plant and stick to your leg, this plant has been nicknamed “Jumping Cholla.” And once its on you, it is difficult to remove because there is no where to grab it that isn’t covered in the same needles you’re trying to remove.
First Aid Experiences with Puppy and Cholla
Penny has been stuck with cholla in her paws a couple times. She’ll get a piece in her paw and try to remove it with her mouth. So instead of removing it from her paw, she sticks her mouth. I’ve tried before to remove them from her mouth while still on the trail, but it is very tough to hold her still, open her mouth, hold a flash light, and work the tweezers.
So I need to call the shoot finished and rush home so my wife and I can work together to remove the stickers with tweezers. One of us will hold Penny, pet and comfort her and try to keep her calm, while the other holds her mouth open and tries to remove the needles from the back of her throat while she tries to close her mouth and turn her head away. We usually take turns in each role. It’s a very long and difficult process, and it distresses us to see Penny in pain. Eventually, though, we are able to remove all the thorns, which makes Penny a very happy puppy.
So, instead of ending the trip immediately and going through that whole ordeal, I can just carry a comb and quickly remove the cholla from her paw before she has a chance to (ineffectively) remove it herself. We can continue on our way, me capturing more images and her smelling all the smells.
How Do I Safely Remove Cholla from my Body?
An important step in keeping us both safe from cholla is prevention. I try to avoid going into areas where there are many cholla to begin with. The second line of defense is protective clothing. Wearing a good pair of boots and thick pants can help any stray pieces you pick up from penetrating into your body. And for the pupper there are hiking boots to protect her feet, and her thick fur keeps the barbs from penetrating her skin.
If one of us is unfortunate enough to get stuck, the piece of first aid equipment that I find essential is a comb. Carrying a comb allows me to remove cholla from myself and my dog quickly and safely. I run the comb teeth between the needles and flick the danger spikes in a safe direction.
I’d Love to Hear Your Feedback
What did you think of my story? Have you had any experiences with cholla? Have you seen some other dangers of the desert I need to beware of? (snake, and scorpions and flash-floods, oh my!) Tell me your stories them in the comments!