Summer Hazard – Foxtails

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Foxtails are the collective name for the dried, sharp, clustered seed husks that appear on many spieces of grasses at the end of spring. The seed clusters generally separate and blow around, becoming sharper as they dry out. Foxtails cause problems for animals because they get stuck in their fur, between toes, in eyes, noses, and ears. Due to their barbed shape, they can only migrate forward (into the body). They can end up ANYWHERE on or in a patient’s body. Common presentations of foxtails are: Sudden sneezing fits: Often this occurs immediately after a dog was running off leash through tall grasses, or sniffing around in the weeds. As the dog was inhaling, it snorted a foxtail up it’s nose. The pet is not usually able to sneeze the foxtail out, but sometimes they can snort it hard enough to swallow it, in which case the sneezing becomes less frequent over a few hours. More rarely, a pet can inhale the foxtail into it’s lungs, where it can cause pnuemonia or serious infection in the chest. Suddenly squinting eye: Dogs and cats often get foxtails under their eyelids. The foxtail rubs on the cornea of the eye causing an ulcer. If you suspect a foxtail in your pet’s eye, please come in on an emergency or urgent care visit ASAP. A corneal ulcer can quickly become vision threatening. Red bump between toes: The pet steps on the foxtail, which due to it’s barbed shape migrates forward into the foot. This causes a localized infection and a draining tract. The dog is often seen licking the area repeatedly. Sometimes multiple toes or feet are affected. Sudden head shaking, holding ear differently, painful around head: Foxtails also like to go into ears. They cause pain, infection, and potentially a ruptured eardrum. Lump and bumps on the body: Pets lie on the grass, where the foxtails stick into their fur and migrate into their skin causing local infections and draining tracts. On rare occassions, foxtails can migrate into the abdominal or chest cavity causing life threatening illness. Constant licking of the penis or vulva: Your pet squats to relieve itself over a foxtail (ouch!). Foxtails in this area can cause pain and infection. Discharge may not be evident if the pet is constantly licking it away. Unfortunately, foxtails are not broken down by the body and do not usually resolve on their own, therefore, prompt medical attention is strongly recommended. The treatment will vary based on the body part affected, the pet’s overall condition, and the severity of the disease. While some foxtails can be removed or treated without sedation, others require some degree of anesthesia and a surgical procedure. Know what they look like and remove them from your yard early in the season, while they are green. Be sure to rake up the grass cuttings, so they don’t dry up and blow around. Inspect between your dog’s toes regularly and remove any loose foxtails before they embed. Brush dogs frequently to remove foxtails from their coat. Do not hesitate to call us if you have questions.