Fighting Foxtails: Keeping Your Pet Safe this Foxtail Season

By July 15, 2020Blog

By Staff Member Leanne Schmitt BS, RVT, Fear Free Certified Professional

Summer is here and so are the foxtails. Southern California dog owners are all too familiar with this prickly grass that invades our yards, hiking trails, and bay shores. Foxtails are masters of stealth, sneaking into our pet’s fur and burrowing under the skin.

The complications resulting from an undetected foxtail range greatly in severity and often require sedation and medications to manage.

Foxtails should be taken very seriously as they have the potential to cause significant secondary problems once they have entered the skin, respiratory tract, or genitourinary tract. Late spring and early summer are the most common times of year to see foxtails. The unique structure of the foxtail allows them to attach to our pet’s fur and utilize them as a seed dispersal vehicle. If the foxtail penetrates the skin or orpheus of an animal it can result in infection, inflammation, and pain. Foxtails can migrate to various areas of our pet’s bodies causing significant secondary complications. Scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian immediately is always recommended if you suspect your pet has come in contact with a foxtail.

Understanding how to identify a foxtail and avoid areas where they are prevalent is paramount. The sharp spear-tip end of the foxtail allows them to enter any orpheus on our pet’s body. Their feather-like projections facilitate movement under the skin making them difficult to locate once the skin has been penetrated. Checking our pets thoroughly after being outside is just one of the ways we can reduce the risk of injury secondary to a foxtail. Coastview Veterinary Hospital’s Doctors and staff are well versed in triaging, detecting, and removing foxtails. Our Fear Free approach to foxtail management ensures prompt removal, reduced stress for your pet, and immediate pain relief. Foxtails are here to stay so it is our responsibility to learn how to coexist with these precocious weeds.

Foxtails are common along the west coast of the United States. Foxtail grasses can be identified by their “foxtail,” a bushy group of spiked seeds that resemble the tail of a fox when green, but these bushy-looking awns quickly become hard and almost needle-like when the grass dries.1 Foxtails serve as a means of seed dispersal in some plants. Animals are the ideal vehicle to transport the seeds to new locations. This grass is most often seen during late spring and early summer. Winter rains and spring sunshine provide the perfect environment for the grasses to flourish. As we enter the drier months of early summer, these grasses become dry and detach from the grass tip they once grew from. There are many reasons for the success of the weedy foxtail. These include biodiversity, competitive ability, tolerance to stress, and herbicide resistance.2 Foxtails are hard to eliminate from our environment, making them successful propagators in the plant community.

Foxtails can infiltrate various areas on our pet’s bodies.

Common Places Foxtails Can Be Found On Your Pet

  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Between the toes
  • Under the skin
  • Genitalia

When a foxtail enters the skin or an orpheus on our pet it has the potential to migrate to a new location. A foxtail’s ability to migrate can complicate removal of the foxtail. Sometimes a draining tract can be located. A draining tract is typically an inflamed area of skin with an opening to the environment. Draining tracts are painful and can have evidence of secondary infection. Draining tracts can be cavernous and deep making it difficult to locate a small piece of grass within them.

When foxtails enter the nose there is the possibility that they will migrate to the lungs causing respiratory problems. Foxtails that have migrated to the lungs require the expertise of a surgical specialist for removal. Foxtails in the eye have the potential to scratch the delicate cornea and cause ulcers. Foxtails that are left untreated often result in infection and inflammation causing tissue damage and even bone infections. It is always best to have your pet examined if you suspect a foxtail may be causing your pet’s symptoms. Immediate veterinary care greatly reduces the risk of secondary complications from foxtails.

If your pet has exposure to foxtails and is exhibiting any of the following symptoms please call our office immediately.

Symptoms Of Foxtails

  • Sneezing – Violent sneezing with significant head movement, curled nostril, pawing at the nose, and bloody discharge
  • Squinting – Eye discharge, pawing at the eye, swollen membranes of the eye
  • Localized swelling – Draining tract present, discharge, inflammation, excessive licking and chewing at the area

If it is likely that your pet has a foxtail, we will schedule you as soon as possible; this may be a designated appointment time with a doctor or a drop of examination.

For skin wounds, a local anesthetic or numbing agent is delivered to the site for immediate pain relief. The area is cleaned thoroughly with antiseptic flush. Following foxtail removal Laser Therapy is performed. To learn about the benefits of laser therapy please see our blog post.

Once the foxtail is removed most pets are more comfortable and no longer lick or rub at the affected area. If there is residual infection or inflammation present an e-collar or a bandage may be required for 3-5 days post removal. Pain medications and antibiotics may be prescribed and should be given as directed by the veterinarian. If a foxtail is removed from your pet’s eye a local anesthetic is applied to the eye for instant pain relief. Once the foxtail is removed you may be directed to apply eye ointment daily.

If an ulcer is present recheck appointments will be required to be sure the ulcer is healing and eye sight has not been compromised. Foxtails removed from the nose often cause significant inflammation and bloody nasal discharge. Sneezing and bloody discharge can be expected for 24-48 hours following removal of the foxtail. One of the more common places foxtails end up is inside the ear canal. Once the foxtail has been removed from the ear the doctor will examine the integrity of the eardrum. Medications will be prescribed based on whether or not the eardrum is intact. If the eardrum is ruptured follow up appointments will be required to be sure it is healing and there is no evidence of an inner ear infection.

How To Prevent Foxtails

  • Avoid areas where foxtails are present
  • Regular weed and garden maintenance
  • Block your pet from entering areas of your yard where foxtails grow by using barriers or keeping your pet on leash
  • Thoroughly check your pet over when coming in from outside and manually remove any foxtails or plant material

Always know that at CoastView Veterinary Hospital our priority is to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress by providing sedation, local anesthetics, laser therapy, and oral pain medications when appropriate for foxtail removal. Foxtails are definitely a risk for all of our pets as they venture outside during this time of year. Avoid areas where foxtails are present and always check over your pet when they come in from a walk.

1 pspadmin. “How to Identify Foxtail Grasses And Why It’s Important.” Puget Sound Puppers, http://pugetsoundpuppers.com/how-to-identify-foxtail-grasses-and-why-its-important/#:~:text=Foxtail%20grasses%20can%20be%20identified,like%20when%20the%20grass%20dries. Jul 26, 2017.

2 Jdeckerr. “Foxtail Species Group Adaptation.” Weed Biology and Ecology, http://agron-www.agron.iastate.edu/~weeds/Ag317-99/bioeco/adaptation/Afox.html. 1999.

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