It’s summer now, which means that it’s time for warmer temps and later sunsets. Unfortunately, that also means it’s foxtail season for pets and veterinarians. Foxtails, a weed with a barbed, hardened end, are extremely common on the west coast and a hazard for dogs and outdoor cats, often getting inhaled or lodged in the skin.
The most common foxtail problems we see are foxtails up the nose, in the paws, and in the ears. Foxtails often enter the nostrils while dogs sniff around outside. Air flow through the nostrils can cause the foxtail to travel through the nasal passages, causing pain and possible infection. Sneezing, bloody discharge, and pawing at the nose may be a sign that your dog has inhaled a foxtail. Foxtails can go on similar journeys through the ear canals.
A dog with a foxtail in the ear will often act the same way as a dog with an ear infection, shaking the head or pawing at the ear. Sometimes it does cause an infection, so there might also be an odor or redness.
Treating a foxtail in the nose or ear requires a veterinarian to first sedate the animal and then use a small scope to explore the ear canals or nasal passages. Once the offending foxtail is found, it can be removed.
You can take steps to avoid foxtail issues by removing any that are growing in your yard, but with foxtails so prevalent in neighborhood parks and open spaces, it’s difficult to avoid them completely. There is a relatively new product on the market designed to keep foxtails out of the ears, eyes, nose and mouth. The OutFox® Field Guard is made of loose mesh, fits over the head, and is tethered to the collar with Velcro straps. Different sizes are available based on the size of the dog’s skull.
Though the mask helps to protect the sensitive areas around the face, owners should be aware that foxtails can still cause problems for the feet and body. They frequently become embedded in the sensitive skin around the toes, causing swelling. Owners should check for foxtails if they notice any limping and/or frequent licking of the area.
Other prime areas for foxtails to penetrate the skin include the armpits and genitalia. Once foxtails are in the skin, they tend to migrate, causing inflammation and bacterial infection in the soft tissues. Animals with foxtails under the skin can be seen licking the affected area constantly. Sometimes a red bump will be seen on the skin.
Giving your pet a quick once-over after spending time outside may help you spot foxtails before they become embedded and cause pain or irritation. For dogs with longer coats, such as Golden Retrievers, I recommend going over them with a fine-toothed comb or brush and removing any foxtails that might be stuck. Also, check their ears and paws.
If you suspect that a foxtail may be bothering your pet, please contact a veterinarian right away. The quicker foxtails can be found and removed, the less likely they are to cause serious damage.