You’ve probably noticed that since the rain has stopped around here, and the grasses have begun to turn from green to gold. That means it’s time to watch out for the weed called foxtail, which produces small barb-like seeds—a major hazard for dogs.
The foxtail plant is a tallish grass that grows in western states and looks like wheat—you’ve seen it along the edge of sidewalks and in yards. (One good reason to keep your dog on a leash is to be able to steer clear of it.)
Shaped a little like a fish hooks, foxtails are nasty—they can get caught in dog hair then skin, and in a dog’s nose, ears, mouth, and feet—see the photo below which shows an abscess that formed on a dog’s paw due to a foxtail.
I have one client whose dog got one in its eye!
What’s horrible about foxtails is that they’re extremely hard to get out, and once they’re burrowed in a dog’s skin they can migrate into the muscle, causing dangerous infection.
The UC Davis Veterinary Medicine School is featuring a recent case study on their website about a 4-year-old German shepherd mix named Joey who picked up a foxtail that caused an infection that would not heal. Using ultrasound, the vets discovered that the foxtail had become lodged next to Joey’s spine near the dog’s heart. Surgery was required to safely remove the foxtail, and Joey is now just fine.
In trying to extract them from their fur, some dogs will ingest foxtails, which can lead to the barbs becoming lodged internally—also extremely dangerous.
Here we are on a recent hike. Look at all the foxtails behind the dogs!
Veterinarians recommend the following preventive measures that dog-owners can take:
Remove foxtail grass from your yard, or cut down as much as possible. (Be aware though, that the dried seeds or barbs can spread easily.)
Keep your dog away from foxtail grasses while on walks or hikes.
Comb your dog’s fur carefully and often—especially in spring and summer when the dried foxtail barbs are falling from the stalks.
Inspect your dog’s fur, ears, feet, and nose every day for foxtail barbs.
Signs that your dog might have a foxtail
According to the Mission Animal & Bird Hospital in Oceanside, here are the signs that your dog might have a foxtail…
In the nose: Sudden sneezing, pawing at his nose, and/or bleeding from the nostril. If a foxtail gets into the sinus cavity, the dog’s symptoms will eventually disappear, which may lead you to believe that whatever was bothering him has gone away. But if the foxtail is in the sinus cavity, the situation can become dangerous, possibly leading to severe infection.
In an ear: Pawing at the ear, head tilt, shaking the head, crying, and possibly stiff gait when walking. You may not be able to see the foxtail once it embeds deep within the ear.
In an eye: Squinting, tearing, and mucous discharge. Your dog may paw at the eye, but you may not be able to see the foxtail if it has already lodged beneath the eyelid.
In the mouth: Gagging, retching, coughing, eating grass, stretching his neck and swallowing repeatedly.
What to do
If you see any of these signs, get your dog to the vet immediately.
Tell me about it!
Has your dog had a problem with foxtails getting caught in their fur or anywhere on their body? If so, what did you do?
Photo courtesy of Mission Animal & Bird Hospital in Oceanside