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Beware of Foxtails!

During these days of warm, sunny weather, it’s only natural for us to want to take our dogs away from the urban jungle and have fun where there’s grass, trees, and fresh air.

Remember, however, that the great outdoors is where your dog can pick up one of the biggest pains in the nose or ear or eye — a foxtail.

As its name suggests, a foxtail is a grass that looks similar to a fox’s tail. Unfortunately, the plant, which is also called “spear grass,” is not like fur, but spiky, and it can be hazardous and even deadly to your pet. There are many varieties
of this type of grass and some are more dangerous than others.

The problem with this grass is that the mature seeds have sharp barbs that are designed to cling to animal fur. When your dog walks by or through the grass, the tips with the barbs catch onto fur and come easily off of the rest of the plant. The purpose is so that the seeds of the plant can be dispersed by the moving animal.

Unfortunately for our pets, especially long-haired dog breeds, this can be a big problem. Because of the barbs of the foxtail, it moves in only one direction, and as the dog moves around, it tends to burrow deeper into the fur. If your dog has shorter fur, you will be able to spot the foxtails more easily and remove them. Or, they may fall off on their own.

Long-haired breeds have no such luck. The foxtails usually stay put and just get driven in deeper as the dog moves.

It’s easy enough to remove the barbed foxtails when you see them, but if they get inside your dog’s ear canal, up into his nose, into his throat, or even under his eyelid, the foxtail goes from being an irritation to real danger. Unless it’s removed immediately, the foxtail will go deeper, causing pain, internal damage, infection, and even death.

The seeds have even been found inside lungs and abdomens. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remove the plant, but that can be difficult because the foxtail doesn’t easily show up in x-rays or ultrasounds.

When you take your dog out and let him run free outdoors, keep your eyes out for the grass. You’ll want to try and steer your dog away from dry, grassy areas. The best thing you can do is pick areas like a nicely landscaped park free of tall weeds and grasses.

You’ll also want to keep your own backyard free potentially dangerous weeds and grasses.

If you do let your dog run around in an area that has more wild plant life, be sure to do a thorough check of your pet after his romp. Do an overall body brushing and exam, with special attention to the ears, eyes, nose, between the toes. Also be aware of any behavior or symptoms such as sneezing, blood from the nose, pawing, or scratching.

Even after you’ve done an exam, follow up with another check later on in case you’ve missed something. If you do find
a seed and if you can’t easily remove it, take your dog to the vet. Foxtails are something to take seriously, and if you do, your dog will thank you for that!


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