Monday, May 13, 2013

Foxtails are serious threat to your pets

Foxtails are a deadly threat to our pets
Your pet has a deadly enemy that comes in the form of several species of grassy weeds found throughout the western United States. These weeds grow rapidly during the winter/spring rains, and then dry out in the summer months. As the grasses mature, a seed forms at the top of the stalk resembling a foxtail. As foxtail grasses dry out, the seeds detach easily and stick readily to clothing and fur.

Foxtails can enter a dog's body in a variety of ways and once in they work like an animated fishhook: the seed moves steadily inward, and because of tiny barbs, it cannot back out. It's most common for a foxtail to enter a dog's body through the skin, nose, ears, paws, genitals, and eyes. One veterinarian reported a foxtail found in a dog's lung had initially entered through the dog's paw. Foxtails are tenacious and deadly.

Foxtails are relatively small, so detecting them after they enter a dog's body can be difficult. Veterinarians usually rely on telltale symptoms such as head-shaking, paw licking, swellings on the body, or sudden and continuous sneezing. Foxtails in the ears, nose and eyes are serious and can ultimately be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

When a foxtail is inhaled and lodged in the nasal cavity, a dog will sneeze repeatedly and violently, sometimes even banging his nose on the floor with each sneeze in a futile attempt to dislodge the seed. It is often possible for a veterinarian to sedate the animal, locate the seed with an otoscope and remove it using special forceps - provided the animal is brought in when symptoms first appear.

When a foxtail is lodged in the paw or under the coat, a lump will usually form that is painful to touch. Depending on how deep the foxtail has traveled it can usually be removed surgically.

When a foxtail gets into a dog's eye, the dog will usually paw the eye, which will water. When you see a foxtail under the eyelid, don't try to remove it yourself. There's a good chance you may not get it all. Keep your dog from pawing the eye and get him to a veterinarian immediately, preferably a veterinary opthomologist.

When your dog gets a foxtail in an ear, he will usually shake his head violently. Again, whenever you suspect a foxtail, get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. The best way to handle foxtail problems is to prevent them or treat them early.

Whenever possible avoid foxtail infested areas - especially during the dry season. After a romp through tall, mature grass follow these steps:

• Thoroughly brush and inspect your dog's coat. Run your hands over his coat looking for foxtails. Dogs with long hair are particularly susceptible to foxtails.

• Look into your dog's ears. If your dog has floppy ears, lift each ear and inspect.

• Examine your dog's paws (in-between toes and paw pads), neck (under the collar), tail/anus, and under "armpit" areas. Remove any foxtails sitting on the fur.

• If you believe your dog has a foxtail lodged somewhere in his body get him to a veterinarian immediately. The longer you wait, the deeper the foxtail will travel and the more damage it will do, and the more difficult and costly it will be to treat.

If you are new to Arizona and you're not sure what a foxtail looks like, ask fellow dog people or your veterinarian to show you. Learn to recognize foxtails and avoid them! Foxtail danger in our parks and neighborhoods can be greatly reduced by simply mowing the grass regularly, especially in the late spring. Mowing cuts off the foxtail grass before the deadly seed forms.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society.  He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.