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Are Foxtails a Hidden Danger For Your Pets?

You have probably seen plenty of foxtails, possibly growing in vacant logs, along roadsides, or in meadows, but you may not have known what they were called. Though found throughout the US, they are most prevalent in the West, particularly in California. The word ‘foxtail’ describes the grassy, seed-bearing structures that in the early spring months, are green and bushy like a fox’s tail. In the summer and early fall, the grasses and seeds dry out, breaking apart. As this happens, they become dangerous, as they have a sharp point at one end that moves easily in one direction, but not the other.

When your pet comes into contact with a loose foxtail cluster, the cluster can attach to their fur, moving inward as your pet moves. The barbs on the cluster keep the foxtail from falling off or backing out of the fur, and the enzymes in the bacteria break down your pet’s hair and tissues. Foxtails can enter your pet’s nasal passage, eyes, ears, and mouth, and can work their way into their lungs, along the backbone, and into many other locations throughout your pet’s body. If left untreated, serious medical problems – and potentially, death – can result.

Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your pets against foxtails. After they have been outside, be sure to check their coat closely. A well-maintained coat with a close-bodied cut during summer months can lessen the risk for potential problems for your dog or cat.

When you are outdoors, be aware of your surroundings, your yard and your pets. If you take your dog to a park, a lake or the beach, be mindful of the shrubbery around you. Foxtails grow in dry, bushy areas, so it is a good idea to check your pet’s feet (pads and in between toes) and underbelly, and then brush your pet to be certain you have not overlooked anything. If you suspect your pet may have an embedded foxtail, contact your veterinarian immediately; he/she will need to locate the foxtail and remove it. However, if the foxtail has embedded past the reach of tweezers or forceps, your pet will need to undergo surgery to remove the foxtail.

If you suspect your pet may have an embedded foxtail, physical signs to look for include:

1. Nose: Extreme severe sneezing, pawing at nose, bleeding from nose; symptoms may diminish after several hours, but become intermittent for several days following;
2. Ear: Tilting/shaking head, pawing at ear, crying, erratic movement;
3. Eye: Squinting eye suddenly, eye swelling, tearing, mucous discharge;
4. Throat: Gagging, retching cough, compulsive grass eating, stretching neck and swallowing;
5. Skin: Small sore between toes or under arms, sores on skin accompanied by swelling, small lumps or blisters;