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While it can be a joy to watch your dog romp through the great outdoors, pet parents should take note of a summertime danger: foxtail grass.
Foxtails are annoying, prickly seeds that get stuck to your socks and shoelaces in weedy areas. The seed’s shape is designed for digging into the soil. However, if they get into dogs, it poses potentially dangerous consequences. Here’s what dog lovers need to know about foxtails.
If a foxtail seed gets lodged into your dog, it’s on a one-way trip to the inside of your animal. It won’t dissolve on its own.
Foxtail seeds have a sharp front tip that enters the body through an orifice or through skin penetration. On the other hand, the hooked barb prevents it from getting back out. The seed is on a one-way trip to the inside of your animal.
Removal is the only option. Unlike your ordinary stickers, foxtails can be tricky for a owner without medical training to remove. A trip to your vet is the best course of action. If left untreated, a seed can cause abscesses formation and potential infection. A foxtail seed can migrate through a dog’s body to the lungs or other vital organs, resulting in severe complications—or even death.
“If you notice a seed is lightly embedded and you’re able to remove it, still schedule an appointment with your vet as there could be remnants left in the dog,” said by the Rover panelist and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Rebecca Greenstein. “Sometimes we can’t find the seed without advanced testing. If you know that your dog has had any exposure, it’s good to seek medical attention.”
According to Dr. Greenstein, building awareness is the first step to prevent your dog from adverse signs resulted from foxtails. “Familiarise yourself with what foxtail looks like and avoid long grass if you can,” she advised. “Once dog owners know the potential danger foxtail poses, they can help their pet avoid contact and take the proper action when exposed.”
Joey, a playful German Shepherd mix from California, is one extreme case. The curious pup developed swelling in his hip the day after a run-in with a tree stump. His veterinarian treated him for a bacterial infection, but the swelling returned.
Therefore, Joey was taken to the University of California at Davis Veterinary Hospital. Imaging specialists spot a large foreign object after performing an ultrasound from the initial wound area toward his abdomen. The object was later revealed as a foxtail that entered at the hip and migrated to within an eighth of an inch of Joey’s aorta. Joey went home and recuperated successfully after a surgery with a few days of hospitalisation.
How to identify a foxtail
Foxtails are named because—you guessed it—they resemble a fox’s tail. Look for hairy, bristle-like spines that grow upward from the stalk. There are many species of grasses in this group of weed. They can be found in most areas of the U.S., Canada, and the UK (though they’re less prevalent in the southeastern U.S.)
Foxtails spread rapidly after a wet spring. They are harmless over winter, but become pest from mid-April through autumn, as the seeds get dry and snag on fur. These grasses thrive in a variety of environment. They grow especially well in open areas such as roadsides, parks, trails, and fields.
They can also be found in your very own yard. Remove any that you find by pulling them out or spray the plants with vinegar on a hot day.
These weedy grasses have many names! These include:
- Yellow or green foxtail
- Giant foxtail
- Cheatgrass (a.k.a. bromus tectorum, drooping brome or downy brome)
- June grass
- Creeping foxtail
- Timothy grass
- Awns/grass awns/grass seed
Signs of a foxtail issue
If you suspect your dog has been around foxtail grass, Dr. Greenstein said signs will indicate which body part did the seed entered.
“If the seed was inhaled through the snout, for example, your dog may begin to experience sneezing, nasal discharge, and snorting. If it has migrated through the paw, you may find that your dog is limping,” Greenstein said.
“Unfortunately, if you are unaware of the exposure, this wide array of symptoms can make it difficult for pet owners to determine a foxtail seed as the source of their dog’s illness.”
Some signs your dog may have encountered foxtails include:
- An eye that has swollen shut or is squinting and leaking sticky discharge
- Bloody discharge from the nose
- A tough time chewing or swallowing
- Refusing to eat
- Bad odour coming from the mouth, ears or nose
- Continuous licking or nipping at the paws or other areas
- Open sores, which may be the remains of a burst abscess or where the foxtail reside
“If you are aware that your dog has been exposed to a foxtail-infested area, take inventory on where the seed could’ve come in contact,” said Dr. Greenstein. “This can range from the dog’s snout to their mouth to the underside of their paws.”
If you believe that your dog may have come in contact with foxtail, make an appointment with your vet.
Keeping your dog foxtail-free
Prevention is key! This includes:
- Remove foxtails in your yard.
- Avoid foxtail-prone areas like open fields or overgrown paths and parks.
- Stick to paved paths when walking and avoid high grass or weeds.
- Check your pet thoroughly after any potential exposure. Make sure to look between the toes, in the ears, armpits, and groin areas. Check any folded areas and do a thorough combing.
- If you have a long-haired dog, comb through their fur with extra attention as it may be more difficult to locate the seed.
- If you attempt to remove a seed yourself, make sure you have the whole seed or else it can migrate through the dog’s body. See your veterinarian if any seed parts are not removed.
Preventative gear is available. This is useful for dogs who are off-leash in grassland areas. If your dog is regularly exposed to foxtails, consider dog shoes for paw protection or the OutFox Field Guard (international shipping available), which is designed to prevent foxtail exposure to a dog’s nose, ears, and mouth.
By educating yourself on foxtails, you can keep your pet safe, healthy, and happy during their time outdoors!