Dryer weather is coming and this means an increased presence of foxtails here in California. Foxtails are dried plant awns found throughout California, on hillsides, at your favorite dog friendly trail, and even your own backyard. They can be extremely problematic for dogs and outdoor cats because they can easily get lodged in between toes, in the nose, under a thick hair coat, in the eyes and ears, and at the back of the throat. The biggest danger posed is when these foxtails are left embedded in our pets, allowing them to migrate throughout the body and cause serious damage. They have even been found in the lungs and near the spinal cord of pets!
Pet owners should be vigilant about checking their pets after going out in areas with foxtails. Carefully inspect in between the toes for small draining tracts and redness, feel the hair coat in the armpit and groin area, make sure their eyes look clear, and watch for intense head shaking, and iintense sneezing. A dog who has inhaled a foxtail up the nose will typically suddenly start sneezing very hard, paw at their nose, and even sneeze blood. If you find a foxtail or evidence of one, but it cannot be safely remove it at home, please contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will determine the safest way to remove the foxtail. Your pet may need to be sedated depending on the location of the foxtail, so it is best to not feed them before their visit (sedation is safer if they have been temporarily fasted).
Preventing exposure to foxtails is the best way to avoid complications from foxtails. Avoid letting your pets run through areas with many foxtails. Remove weeds and other foxtail-producing plants from your yard in the winter time time, before they can grow into full blown dry foxtails in the spring and summer. Some high risk dogs can be outfitted with mesh head nets made by OutFox (outfoxfordogs.com) which will help protect the nose, mouth, and ears from foxtails.
Dr. Erica Chiu, DVM
San Bruno Pet Hospital