Are Cacti Poisonous?

Cacti grow in dry, desert environments, such as the Southwest in the United States. There are more than 2,000 different species, most of which are native to the Americas. They are covered in prickly spines that protect them from predators. They have bodies that can store water, which is why they survive in the dry conditions of the desert. 

In general, cacti are not poisonous. However, there are species that contain hallucinogens and mescaline. Some cacti produce fruit, such as the prickly pear cactus or the dragon fruit. You can also drink cactus water, as it is free of toxins and safe. The greatest danger from cacti are their prickly spines. 

Are Cacti Poisonous to People?

Most of the 2,000 species of cacti are not poisonous to people. However, if you eat cacti, you could have an allergic reaction and end up with a stomach ache or diarrhea. The spines of cacti are their version of leaves. They are around the outer edges, and they can be sharp or soft. The spines are usually covered in Glochids, which are similar to tiny little hairs. They are barbed, and they can hook into your flesh. 

The needles on some cacti, such as the Saguaro or the hedgehog are poisonous, but this isn’t the case for many, including the prickly pear. They can hurt if they prick you, but they don’t contain poison. 

The following is a list of cacti that are poisonous to people:

  • San Pedro Cactus: Found in Mexico, Central, and South America, this species contains mescaline. It can cause hallucinations or delusions, as well as nausea.
  • Peruvian Torch Cactus: Found throughout South America, it contains alkaloids, which cause nausea. It can also cause hallucinations and delusions. 
  • Prickly Pear Cactus: There are no poisons in the spines, but there is latex sap in the stem that can irritate your skin. 
  • Peyote Cactus: Used in native American rituals, it contains mescaline, which can cause hallucinations and delusions. 
  • Barrel Cactus: It contains toxic sap that is in its ribs. It can cause skin irritation.
  • Cholla Cactus: Found in North America, it has poisonous needles and it shoots them at people and other predators.

Most cacti are not poisonous because it isn’t necessary. They protect themselves well with their prickly spikes and spines. Although they aren’t poisonous, they are dangerous to people because they can hurt you.

Potted cacti
Yay Potted cacti

Are Cacti Poisonous to Dogs?

In general, cacti are not poisonous to dogs. The same cacti that are poisonous to humans are dangerous for dogs, but most dogs won’t get past their spikes. The cactus needles can cause an allergic reaction in dogs, whether they are stabbed by it or they try to eat it. The needles can grab deep into their flesh and cause an emergency. 

If your dog eats poisonous cacti that contain mescaline, it can be poisonous. You should contact your vet. They will likely try to induce vomiting and pump the stomach, as this can be very uncomfortable for dogs. You should keep your dog away from cactus, as they can harm the dog, whether they are poisonous or not. 

Are Cacti Poisonous to Cats?

Most cats instinctively know to stay away from cacti, even though they are generally not poisonous to cats. However, some varieties are poisonous, and all cacti have needles and prickly spines that can harm a cat. Some cacti, such as the Prickly Pear, have tiny barbed glochids, which are similar to small hairs. However, they can hook into the cat’s flesh and be difficult to remove. 

Cat with cactus
Yay Cat with cactus

Cats are naturally curious animals, and the cactus is a unique looking plant. Cats might swat at it to see how the needles work. They also may try to eat cacti, which is generally okay. The only time it’s a problem is if it is a cactus that contains mescaline. Cats will rub up against cacti to scratch their backs. Sometimes they scratch their teeth as well. Most of the time this will happen if you have a cactus in your home, but they are less likely to mess with cacti in the wild. 

Are Cacti Poisonous to Livestock?

Cacti are not poisonous to horses, but they can be dangerous for them. Horses will usually stay away from cacti left to their own devices, but the problem exists when you are riding them out in the desert. The cholla cactus is one that throws its needles, and they can grab onto the horse as it passes by. The spines cause immediate pain, and they are very difficult to remove because they are barbed. 

If a horse should panic from the pain, it can turn into a larger problem. The horse might run blindly and inadvertently into other cacti. The best way to avoid this situation is to be aware of this cactus and steer clear of it. You can also put boots on your horse’s legs and get your vet to administer a sedative if you need to remove the barbed needles. 

Most cacti are not poisonous to goats, but the agave cactus is dangerous. It has leaves with teeth around the edges that can grab onto a goat. The juice from this cactus contains saponin, which is poisonous to sheep, to goats, and to cattle. It causes an illness called goat fever. 

Most cacti are not poisonous to chickens, and chickens will usually steer clear of it. If the barbed needles of a cactus grab onto a chicken’s flesh, they can be hard to remove. Sometimes, they will pull flesh out with them. 

Are Cacti Poisonous to Wild Animals?

Cacti are not poisonous to deer. In fact, whitetail deer will eat cactus as part of their diet. In Texas, deer eat the Prickly Pear cactus fruit. They are nutritious and high in moisture content. Deer have an amazing ability to change their diet as necessary based on what is available, and there are times when the cactus is the best option available. 

Cacti are not a primary part of the deer’s diet, but they can become important when other sources aren’t available or they are necessary for survival.