Animal Care & Welfare: Foxtails
One sure way to elicit a large groan from a pet-owning local is to say the word ‘foxtail’. It’s that dry time of year again, and with it comes the threat of foxtails getting into our animals.
The seed head of the foxtail plant is barbed, so once it penetrates it only moves in a forward direction. Foxtails can be swallowed, burrow between toes, tunnel into an ear canal or they can be inhaled up the nose. Once inside the body, they can continue to travel causing tissue damage, or they can get lodged somewhere, causing an abscess. Early signs of ‘foxtail trouble’ are dependent upon the site of entry. Limping and licking a paw, eye squinting and sneezing, even labored breathing can all indicate the presence of a foxtail. Caught early, your veterinarian can possibly retrieve a foxtail with sedation and some alligator forceps. Foxtails allowed to migrate further into the body can be serious enough to warrant exploratory surgery. The key is not to wait—the longer you wait to get your pet to a veterinarian, the deeper the foxtail will travel.
Long-time local and owner of Bed & Bone kennel, Rebecca Golly, says to "always check your dog’s entire body for foxtails, especially after walking through unknown fields". If you are mowing your lawn or field, "best practice is to rake up cut grasses, which could include oat bristles". Rebecca added, “In the case of foxtails and oat grass, a bit of prevention can save significant pain and suffering for your dog as well as vet bills”. Rainie, a local dog groomer at Bed & Bone, says shaving dogs’ paws can be a preventive measure. Some people say, before taking your dog for a walk, rubbing Vaseline under and over paws, and between toes can prevent foxtails from penetrating the skin.
Given the prevalence of the foxtail plant in our area, make sure to check your pets on a daily basis, especially after taking your dog for a walk. Kitties rolling in the grass, goats walking through a field or horses grazing in their pasture—any animal is a potential ‘foxtail victim’.