Tips wanted: Protecting dog and human feet from cactus spines

Tips wanted: Protecting dog and human feet from cactus spines

Here’s a question from a reader of about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
A couple of weeks ago I drove from my home in Colorado to Arizona for the Phoenix Open with my two dogs. I parked my truck camper in my friend’s driveway in New River, Ariz., for a few days. I found that there were so many cactus and cactus spines on the ground that it was nearly impossible to go out of the camper with the dogs without them getting stickers in their feet. Likewise, I would get them in my shoes and then, of course, the spines would get tracked into the camper where my bare feet would find them for the second time. Was this just an anomaly of the particular area I was in, or is the whole state like this? This experience has me never wanting to go back to Arizona. It just seems cruel to take dogs into an environment like that. Thank you, Bob! —Tom F. of Fort Collins, CO

Hi Tom,
I am not nor have I been a dog owner at any time during my fulltime RV life, including all my trips to the desert, but since I previously have had dogs I understand your concern. Yes, there are cacti throughout the desert parts of Arizona, but it is not common to have the ground littered with cactus spines. Some cacti, such as jumping cholla, grow in sections several inches long and break off easily when brushed against and fall to the ground. But you and your dogs will likely step over – not on – them.

Jumping cholla cactus

But I have never found an abundance of individual spines, broken off from the cacti, to be a problem, especially in paved areas or on trails. Why your feet discovered so many is unusual and I would think that more travel in the desert might reveal cacti spines not the problem that they seem to be to you now.

On the other hand, maybe desert dwellers traveling to forested parts of the U.S. might find that their dogs have brushed against poison oak or ivy and then transferred the oils to their humans, resulting in nasty rashes. They might then wonder if forests are safe for man or beast. But that doesn’t deter them from visiting forests, nor should cactus spines deter you from visiting our wonderful deserts, though careful precautions should be taken.

However, since I can’t provide you with a perfect solution to protect your dogs’ or your feet from cactus spines, I would invite any dog owners that live in or frequent the deserts to comment below with what they have found to be the best remedy to protect human and dog feet from cactus spines. Maybe someone will offer up an effective solution.

Editor’s note: Here are some dog shoes on Amazon that claim protection from thorns.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) .



16 thoughts on “Tips wanted: Protecting dog and human feet from cactus spines

  1. Dr. Laura

    Here in Tucson we carry a very special tool for getting Jumping Cholla off the dogs and ourselves: a comb. Some folks prefer the pick-type comb, and some just a wide toothed pocket comb. Myself, I carry a long curved surgical clamp, leftover from my doctoring days. I clip it onto my clothes or a strap on my backpack. That way it’s there whenever I need it.

    Some parts of Baja AZ are full of cholla, some have none. After three years of roaming around I’ve found a few boondocking spots that are cholla-free! If I absolutely had to take my dog to a cholla-infested locale for any significant length of time, it’d be Ruffwear boots for sure. They’re made for Search and Rescue Dogs, so they actually stay on.

  2. Susan

    Ruff wear dog shoes/boots are perfect protection for your dogs paws. Our dog has been wearing them since he was a puppy. Ruff wear makes boots for the hot pavement, snow and hiking. The military uses this brand for the dogs. Before going full time we lived in Arizona for 30+ years.

    1. Jim Fitz

      I just bought a pair for my newly adopted retired racer last night in Vegas.

    2. Tom Fitch

      I have tried the booties for my dogs in the snow before, but could never seem to keep them on. The one time I did have them sufficiently tight to stay on, my dog’s circulation was cut off and her foot swelled up. But…I haven’t tried the Ruff wear brand yet. Thank you!

  3. Tom Fitch

    Thank you, Bob. Definitely not puncturevine (goatheads, bullheads). We have a lot of that here and I have extracted dozens out of bike tires and dog paws over the years. Not TeddyBear Cholla either – I have learned the hard way about those. I have looked on Google images and it is hard to find the culprits, but I suspect that either prickly pear or a barrel cactus of some sort. The little spine clump was the size of a dime, and looked like a small feather in a way. But the spines came out at all angles which made them hard to pick off. They were on the ground so I suspect must have been shed by the cactus. My friends yard was just covered in cactus of all kinds. I wish I had the presence of mind to ask them specifically what they were from. I did vac several up from my camper but they are in the vacuum now and lost to science, unfortunately. I’m going to keep looking into this…

  4. Tommy Molnar

    We’re currently boondocking just north of Quartzsite, AZ. We have discovered “jumping cholla” the hard way. Man, you get some of these spines on your pants and they stick THROUGH them. They draw blood, and it’s tough to extract them. If you try to pull them off by hand they just stick in your HAND! I ended up using my Swiss Army Knife’s pliers to pull them out. NO FUN, the nasty sob’s.

    I can’t imagine how you’d remove these things from a dog (without drugging them – ha).

  5. Katalin Heymann

    When I first moved out to AZ my dog was constantly picking up all kinds of little round balls with spikes. After removing 6 in one day, I trimmed her leg, chest and stomach fur. She looks a little funny because it exaggerates her long legs, but it has really made a difference. Most fall off when she jumps in the van and I can see them easily against the nylon wood design carpet. She’s only gotten 2 in her paws since and a few on the bed that are easily found and discarded.

  6. bjensen6

    We left Iowa for our first long distance camping trip after we retired in 2015. When we got to Texas our American Eskimo dog started having trouble with the sand burrs getting stuck in her feet. Being a smart dog she quickly figured out the best course of action was to do her duties on the pavement. I remember getting out at a National Park and her squatting right on the sidewalk in front of the main building. I’m sure the experience was much more traumatic for my wife and I than it was for Casey. We have spent the winter in the southwest and she reverted to form. She doesn’t start using the grass until Arkansas.

    1. RV Staff

      Smart dog! –Diane at (a lover of dogs, especially big ones — they “find/rescue” me when I go to the local shelter 😀 ) (I’m a Jensen, BTW.)

  7. Peter McDonald

    We are currently boondocking in the the desert outside Tucson. The spines do get in our dogs feet. I carry a leatherman type tool to pull them out. I think he would rather have it this way than to not go for his walks. That being said, both my wife and I are watching where we walk to try and minimize the hazard. It was an issue yesterday. It has not been an issue today. We are adapting.

  8. CrazyLarry

    Living in Mesquite, NM I have found that the desert areas and small rural areas to have “geodes” which are small, rock hard nodules with spikes. They stick to shoes and animal paws everywhere.
    As I also ride a pedal bicycle besides my motor cycles, I learned they even puncture the rubber tires. To combat them for my tires, local bicycle shop (in Las Cruces) personnel, I had to spend 4x the cost for higher strength, heavy duty rubber inner tubes.
    Suggestions: Before entering your RV, use a needle nose pliers or tweezers, remove shoes and remove the geodes. For pets, find the cheap leather gloves with draw string at the wrist. Invert fingers, slip pet paws into the gloves and draw them closed at the wrist band strap. Remove gloves as pets enter the RV. Do not use your fingers to try and remove the geodes. Hurts like you know what!

  9. George

    We do a lot of boondocking with our dog and have not had a problem with cactus spines. In areas where there are lots of cholla we have put heavy duty leather boots on our dog and they work great. We picked them up at an outdoor market years ago in Arizona. Would be possible to make them yourselves though.

  10. Lin Morgocon

    There is a type of desert plant called Puncture Vine. It is very low growing and hard to see. It has small, but radially barbed spines that are a nightmare for people and pets alike. The barbs often get stuck in the sole of your shoe and you bring them inside. This may be the culprit. They are not abundant everywhere in the desert, but you’ll know it when you find them.

  11. Jeff

    It sounds like you were in a area with lots of type of cactus called Cholla. There is many types of Cholla but one type is the Teddy Bear Cholla and it has a nickname of the jumping cactus since the spines can are carried by wind. It is NOT uncommon in areas with large amounts of Cholla to see Cholla spines on the road.
    We live in the Phoenix area and truly love our county and state parks however we do not stay at some of them due to the fact we have a dog and they have high concentrations of Cholla.
    I recommend to any pet owner that will be camping in the Southwest to search You Tube for Cholla Cactus so you are aware of what it looks like

  12. Sue

    We have run into that problem at RV parks and campgrounds in Tucson, AZ and a couple places in Texas and New Mexico. We have avoided them ever since.

  13. Kevin Hogle

    Could be from tumble weeds

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