Cats and Cactuses

The domestic cat must have an extraordinary ability to suppress pain and discomfort because surprisingly they sometimes climb large cacti and sit on the top.

Cats and cactuses
Cats and cactuses. Photo bottom right of Saguaro cactus by Jake Wasdin
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Cats and cactuses go together in a most uncomfortable way. It astonishes me why a cat wants to climb a large cactus as if he was climbing a tree. There is nearly always a story about a cat stuck up a saguaro cactus in Arizona. These are tree-like cactuses.

Here is a video of a cat descending a saguaro cactus:

It makes me wince. But the cat descends as if he is descending a tree. Yet when you look close up at a saguaro cactus you see what I have shown in the image above.

So, what is going on? How do cats do this? Has anyone else discussed what I consider to be a phenomenon? A cat that vets have named Prickly Pete is the current internet “cactus cat” celebrity.

He was tangled up in a prickly pear cactus. This is more a bush-like cactus. It took vet techs about 2 hours to remove all the spines that were inserted into every part of his body. Sometimes the spines can be poisonous. Great care has to be exercised in removing them to protect both person and cat.

Bearing in mind how horribly sharp and nasty these spines are, how do cats climb through them for 25 feet and then sit on them?

You would think that a cat would immediately jump off a saguaro cactus when he felt himself impaled on all those spines. Perhaps these cats were desperate to escape something. This is probably the likely reason.

However, the cat in the video stayed for three days on top of the cactus. I guess the point I am making is that cats must have a greater ability to withstand pain than the human. It seems that way to me.

If a person pricked his finger on one of those spines he’d yelp and then moan like hell.

When we see a domestic cat silently put up with a thousand pricks from a monstrously sharp and long cactus spine, in informs us about how cats so successfully hide pain when seriously ill. It is hard to know when cats are in pain when suffering a life-threatening illness. If we can’t assess whether a cat is in pain when seriously ill, how can we make a good judgement on whether to elect euthanasia as the most humane course of action?

8 thoughts on “Cats and Cactuses”

  1. Michael:
    It’s nice as well as comforting that Cardie’s a bit relaxed & getting lots of tender loving care from a very special person that is a real cat lover. Pain is good when it alerts us to a health problem but when it becomes chronic then it’s our enemy. How do I know ?
    Spring 1986 a young man was driving 75 mph in a 30 mph before crashing to us (husband & myself) Thanks to our creator I’m able to walk & drive (lots of surgeries & meds) but chronic pain 24/7, had procedure done on lower back on 1/3/13, drs say lot less pain & more functional for @ least 3 months, Hurrah !
    Please if you have any teenage drivers please remind them to obey the speed limits & more importantly think about consequences as a result of negligence.
    I’m always positive whenever possible with a cheerful attitude, remember “We can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar”
    No one like to be around a negative, angry person. We have to make the best of every single day, preferably starting day with a Scriptural tone. Bible was written as our Guidebook & applicable for whatever problem.
    southeast arizona (USA)

    • Gosh, I had no idea you had been so carelessly injured. Sounds very difficult to live with. I am sorry to hear about it. Cardie is good. She is very thin and fragile and I worry about her. I am currently feeding her special cat milk which she likes plus some good wet cat food. She likes it. I am going to get some kitten milk replacement food tomorrow and also some Hills a/d and dilute it down as she likes to lick food.

      I feel she is content which is the most important thing. It is a question of waiting and watching and making her life as good as it can be. Her human companion is getting better which is amazing as she is 98. I doubt Cardie will be back with her human caretaker again. This presents further complications.

  2. I remember this vid. I thought the cat was scared up there by a dog or coyote or some such animal and stayed up there probably in part afraid of the people standing around with cameras. I’ve seen and heard about this sort of things many times. Its a good question. I do believe the spines at the top are much softer and more bendy as with many cactuses – and also smaller. But it is still pretty extreme no matter how you look at it. I think adrenalin takes away pain. Fear. That is what keeps a cat up there so long without falling asleep or falling off.

      • I think one of the most important questions is – does she know you really love her and care for her? Are her last days here going to be filled with love. Is she still nervous in the new surroundings? It would be nice if she is okay enough to have some love and care for a time such that she knows she is safe and loved and might even be happy for a moment about the fact. I’m very typically human i guess.

        • She knows she is loved. She is truly loved. She is quite perky today. She will not go to the vet unless it is really necessary. But she will not suffer pain if I can detect it. She is relaxed because she stays in one room where Charlie has never gone. The recent improvement may just be a brief respite. I don’t know. As I have said the vet diagnosed cancer and he said it had probably spread. But he did this from experience and by palpating the abdomen. Wait and see. Cardi is still very thin and a poor eater but she is stable.

      • Yes, I am. I don’t see that she is in pain. She looks content. There is no indication that she is in pain. The vet said she was not in pain…but how do we know for sure? She is more active today. I have a couple of pictures of her which I’ll upload later today.

  3. There is a small settlement at one end of Saguaro Lake. That may be where she came from. That actually is a different cactus up top. This is what a Saguaro looks like up close:

    I have never seen a cat go up one in person, but I have seen rock squirrels go up them. It is my theory that they stand on the center of the circle of needles as they go up and down. Those type of needles are as a thin as a hair sometimes. They were very irritating and took my mom and some tweezers to get them all out. Otherwise they work themselves out over time. My guess is that the cat’s coat acts as a barrier. You might get a few rubbing up against the cactus, but it would take a deliberate forcing oneself against the barrel of the cactus to get large numbers of needles in-bedded in the skin.

    With all that said, this is probably the ONLY tree-like object growing in the area that would be even conceivable safe to climb. There are some shorter trees, but they always have cactus protecting their trunks. I don’t know how a cat could get in one of those.

    Awesome stuff. I’m really wondering why she ran up there. Snakes are all over the place there. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks


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