Foxtails: Keep your dog safe

Know Your Weeds and Keep Your Dogs Safe This Summer

Summer means fun in the sun, on the trails, in the lake swimming, running, laughing frolicking right?  While that’s what we all want to think about when we think of summer fun, there is a danger lurking out there that you need to be keenly aware of.

This dangerous weed mostly known as the “foxtail” or “barley weed” grows wild out west, so if you are traveling west especially in California get yourself acquainted with the foxtail as it can ruin your whole summer.  Foxtails are very dangerous and can be fatal.  They become dangerous in April when the grasses begin to dry out and your dog runs through the grasses or rolls, or sniffs one up his nose.  They can get into their ears, eyes, nose and feet, under their arms , in the groin area and even in the penile sheath or vulva.

They have sharp points at one end that can very easily penetrate into the skin but not come out.  These little barbs are like a fishhook and get caught in your dogs’ hair or on your clothes.  Once a foxtail burrows into the skin it then forms a fistula as it travels and becomes infected causing much pain and disturbance to your dog.  They can burrow into the lung or other internal organs and cause serous damage, even death.

Look for these common signs:

  • Head shaking usually means a foxtail has gotten lodged in your dogs’ ear.  You may see them carrying their head tilted to one side or scratching profusely at one ear
  • If the eye begins to drip a little and the third lid starts to cover the eye and your see your dog pawing at one eye this is a sure sign of a foxtail has gotten into their eye.
  • Profuse licking at her paws and upon examination you notice a lump or even a tiny hole, it looks inflamed and is very painful, the foxtail has already gotten embedded and has begun to travel and needs to be seen by a veterinarian.
  • Licking any area constantly while whining or even whimpering a bit is a tell tale sign of a foxtail.
  • If your dog begins to sneeze violently and seeming uncontrollably, he may have inhaled a foxtail and is trying to get it out.  Sometimes the sneezing can be so violent that their nose begins to bleed.
  • Coughing or gagging can be a sign of a swallowed foxtail.

If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your dog to the vet immediately.

If you live where foxtails are prominent, early mowing can prevent the foxtails from growing because they form the foxtail heads only when grasses are left to grow.  If you are traveling know what they look like and don’t throw balls in a field of foxtails.  If you are hiking, walk on the fire trails or wider trails, and don’t go off the trails playing in the fields.  Discourage your dog from chewing on dried grasses and don’t let them roll after a swim in a field of dried grass.

Daily grooming after a fun day of play will include brushing her whole body, careful examination of the ears, eyes, in between the toes, around the anus, under the armpits and in the groin area.  If you feel or see a foxtail beginning to penetrate pull it straight out, making sure that you don’t break it while pulling it out.

It is also wise to trim a long haired dog if your lifestyle brings you and your dog on the trails on a regular basis.  If you are traveling and not accustomed to having to examine your dog every day, then I would advise your trim your dog very short for a trip out west to make your life and your dogs life much more comfortable and safe.

Remember to familiarize yourself with what foxtails look like and again, if you notice any of these signs, bring your dog to the vet immediately before they have a chance to burrow further becoming more dangerous and making it more difficult for the vet to find.

Be aware and have a wonderful summer.