Do Animals Eat Cactus?

No, a cactus isn’t the ideal plant for most animals to take a bite of, however, certain desert animals are adapted to eating cactus plants. Many animals enjoy the edible fruits that cacti provide, but some animals will eat other areas of the plant.

The animals that do eat cactus chew it in a particular fashion so the thorns don’t hurt their mouths.

They are able to eat cactus with thorns because they have harder skin tissues inside their mouths. This allows them to eat cactus no differently than any other plant.

Are you interested to know what type of animals eat cactus? While many animals eat the cactus fruits, only certain ones will feast on the rest of the plant. Keep reading to find out what they are.

Cactus Is Not A Normal Food For Animals

Cacti definitely aren’t at the top of the list for many critters when they want a snack. Some cacti, like prickly pear cactus, provide delicious cactus fruit that animals can enjoy. The pear cacti is a favorite among many desert animals.

However, since they have such dry living conditions, many of these creatures are happy to come by any edible plant.

What’s important to remember about cacti is that they grow in areas that are very drought and dry.

There are many different parts of this plant that can be enjoyed. However, only certain critters have developed the mechanisms to be able to ingest cactus plants.

While the cactus fruits are harmless, the cactus has toxins and thorns that could harm animals that aren’t used to it.

Camels have an easier time eating a cactus than other animals because they have harder palates that are more cone-shaped and their tongue papillae are a lot tougher.

This means that they are able to grind up the cactus spikes in a similar fashion to seeds being ground up in a mortar and pestle.

Who Can Eat Cacti Without Getting Hurt

When it comes to eating cacti, camels aren’t the only creatures that can enjoy this spiky plant without getting hurt.

It’s not uncommon for an animal living in the desert to develop behavior strategies that make it easier to eat cactus without getting hurt.

They have specific anatomical features that allow them to eat cactus without any harmful effects.

Which desert critters other than camels can eat cactus without getting hurt? Any animal that is used to living in desert weather conditions is likely able to eat a cactus.

What many people didn’t know is that cacti provide an excellent food flow for wildlife in the deserts.

These critters can safely eat cactus:

  • Prairie Dogs
  • Desert Tortoise
  • Galapagos Land Iguana
  • Wood Rats
  • Jack Rabbits
  • Ground Squirrels
  • Gila Woodpecker

Cacti is a great way for any animal in the desert to get its required nutrients and remain hydrated.

Some of the cacti plants that taste best to a desert animal are:

  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Saguaro Cactus
  • Barrel Cactus
  • Cereus Peruvian Cactus

The Needles Are Too Sharp And Hurt The Animal’s Tongue

animals eating cactus

Most creatures can’t safely eat a prickly pear cactus because of the sharp needles. Not only do they hurt their tongue, but they can also do harm internally if they are not digested correctly. Camels are able to eat cacti because they chew differently than other critters.

When camels chew cactus, they do so in a rotating motion. This motion applies pressure to the cactus throughout the entire mouth and helps the camels get rid of the spike so they can enjoy the cactus.

The spike will usually slide down their throat vertically, along with some of the crushed-up cactus, so it doesn’t hurt their mouth.

These spikes won’t hurt camels once they get digested because their stomach breaks up cellulose contents incredibly quickly. Camels are safe to swallow these thorns because their stomach won’t be injured. 

This happens because there are millions (sometimes even billions) of bacteria in camels’ stomachs that help with digestion.

Should Animals Eat Cactus?

Cacti won’t be at the top of the list for something to feed to your cat or dog. However, many critters that reside in the desert rely on cactus to keep them healthy.

Cactus can be a great source of water, vitamins, and nutrients, which is hard to come by in the desert. While cacti do provide nutritional benefits to come critters, not every animal can safely eat them.

The mouth of a desert animal has developed to have a tougher palate so they can handle chewing on the tough cactus thorn without an injury.


Many pets at home can not do this because their palate is too soft. Not only will they get hurt, but they may also get sick from cacti toxins. Only certain types of animals can safely digest the whole cactus.

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