Dog Health: Why Foxtails Are a Threat to Your Dog
What are Foxtails?
Are you are aware of the dangers that foxtails pose to your dog? Most dog owners are aware of the dangers of heatstroke, bee stings, and other hazards that their dogs are exposed to when the summer months are in full swing, but not many are aware of the risks derived from foxtails. What exactly are foxtails? What makes them such a big threat to dogs? And, most of all, what can be done to protect dogs from this threatening seasonal malady?
What Exactly is a Foxtail?
Country boys know quite well what a foxtail is, as they probably engaged in countless seasonal battles using these units of seed heads as ammunition. A foxtail basically consists of a basic unit of seeds resembling the tail of a fox or a spear. From a reproductive standpoint, the main purpose of this unit of seeds is to effectively penetrate the soil, but attachment to the coat of passing animals has also proven beneficial for seed dispersal purposes.
While in wild animals their short coats cause the foxtail to temporarily cling and then eventually dislodge, in domesticated animals things can become much more troublesome. Problems start when the foxtail attaches to the dog's coat or ends up lodging in the most inappropriate places with unpleasant and even dangerous consequences.
When foxtails are still green there is little concern. Problems begin when the plant dries up in the summer allowing the seeds to be dispatched and allowed to travel in troublesome places. Foxtails can be found in abundance in the Western United States and California.
Foxtails extracted from a dog's nose
Why are Foxtails a Problem for Dogs?
According to veterinarian Greg Perrault in Long Beach, California, foxtails tend to commonly lodge between the dog's toes and inside the dog's ears, nose, throat, and in some cases, eyes. The problem with these bristly plant awns is the fact that they tend to burrow deep because the barbs allow them to only go in one direction.
While in some cases the presence of a foxtail may go undetected for some time, in many cases signs of trouble will arise. For instance, a foxtail in the ear would cause a dog to keep its head tilted while shaking the affected ear, scratching at it and pawing at it. A foxtail lodged in the throat will most likely cause a dog to panic, swallow repeatedly, gag, cough and eat grass in attempt to rid itself of this foreign item stuck in the throat. With a foxtail in the eye, you will see tearing, squinting and the presence of a mucous discharge.
On the other hand, with a foxtail up the dog's nose, the dog may sneeze repeatedly, paw at the nose and bleed from the affected nostril. Problem is, once the foxtail travels up the nose and towards the sinuses the dog may stop exhibiting troublesome behaviors which may cause the owner to believe the dog got better. Instead, the foxtail in reality is embedding more and more, ready to cause a severe and unexpected infection! Foxtails also get stuck in between paw pads causing at times a bubbly swelling and pain.
*Note: there are also horror stories of foxtails travelling and ending up in a dog's brain, anal glands, lungs, and reproductive tracts!
Preventing and Treating Foxtail Issues
If you notice your dog is having problems and believe a foxtail is the culprit, seek immediate veterinarian help. The earlier the issue is dealt with the better. If the vet determines a foxtail is present, he will remove it carefully using tweezers or forceps. Sedation/anesthesia may be required depending on the location of the foxtail. If the foxtail was allowed to embed, an infection may be taking place and surgery may be required.
Knowledge is ultimately power. Now that you know foxtails are dangerous, try to keep your dog away from fields full of this grass. If your dog does walk in an area rich of foxtails, make sure you brush him and inspect him carefully from nose to tip of tail and don't forget to look between the toes! If your dog has a tendency of getting foxtails in its ears and you must head for the fields, consider putting a cotton ball in each ear to play it safe and remember to remove them once home..
Disclaimer: if you believe your dog has a foxtail please seek veterinary advice. This article is not a replacement for professional veterinary advice. By reading this article you accept such disclaimer on dogs and foxtails.