Foxtails Are a Nuisance for Pets and Their Owners

As much as I hate foxtails, I have to admit that their design is nothing short of amazing. And besides, admiring them is much better than swearing when I’m gripping a comb and easing dozens of them out of the silky leg feathers of my three resident dogs.

Dried to a tawny gold by a long, hot summer, foxtails are everywhere these days, their long, slender stems holding sticky seed carriers high, ready to catch a ride on a pant leg or a pet. The carrier itself is designed like a spike, with tiny hairs placed to keep the nettle burrowing forward through whatever material is in the way.

There’s no problem when the spike falls to the ground, of course, where breezes help it to vibrate deep into the soil. But when a foxtail lands on an animal, all too often that burrowing trick is through flesh, and that can cause some severe problems. Foxtails dig deeply into every possible opening. Once in, they keep moving, sometimes causing significant damage. They can end up anywhere, and if left alone, may need surgical attention in time. Dogs may sneeze at them, but you shouldn’t; they can put your pet in danger.

This is the time of year when the grasses are dry and foxtails rule the day. Be aware of these problem sites:

– Feet. Limping and licking are signs a foxtail has found a home, probably between an animal’s toes.

– Ears. Because of the burrowing nature of foxtails, every head shake drives the pest farther down into the ear. A pet with a foxtail in its ear may develop a chronic, foreign-body reaction and infection.

– Nose. Because dogs like to sniff, foxtails often lodge in their noses. The signs are obvious: sneezing, sometimes violently, sometimes accompanied by bleeding or discharge. A foxtail in the nose will cause an infection and can even work its way into the lungs or spinal column.

The best way to deal with foxtails is through prevention. Steer clear of areas dense with foxtails, if you can. Keep the fur between your pet’s toes trimmed, and go over your pet after every outing from head to toe, catching the foxtails before they get a chance to dig in.

Be aware that once a foxtail is imbedded, it isn’t going away. If you suspect a foxtail is in your pet’s ear or nose, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may still be able to grab the nettle before it can cause too much more trouble. Once foxtails have become embedded, it is possible that your veterinarian may need to sedate or anesthetise your pet to remove the foxtails as they can cause inflammation and infection. In the worst case, foxtails can enter the body and then travel around, sometimes ending up three to twelve inches away from the original entry point.

Date Published: 9/27/1998

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