How to Protect Your Dog from Foxtails and Other Grass Awns
You may or may not have heard of foxtails or cheatgrass. These unassuming grasses can be found by the roadside, lining hiking trails, meadows, open grassy fields, and even in your backyard. They pose many health risks to dogs and should be avoided whenever possible. Keep reading to learn more about foxtails and how to protect your dog from injury!
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What is a foxtail?
Foxtails and cheatgrass are types of grass awns - the dried-out seed pods from weedy grasses. Foxtails contain clusters of bristled seeds that resemble the thick tail of a fox. Some species have sharp, pointy tips and backward-pointing barbs.
Where are foxtails found?
Foxtails can be found just about anywhere in North America. Most commonly, foxtails are found in late spring, summer, and early fall. In some western states, such as California, foxtails can be seen year-round.
Why do I need to be concerned about foxtails?
Due to the arrow-like shape of the foxtail, these plants can penetrate a dog’s paw pads, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and mouth. This shape also allows the foxtail to continue forward movement, meaning it moves further and further, becoming irreversibly lodged within the body. Due to this pattern of movement, foxtails can penetrate the body and migrate through soft tissues into organs within the chest or abdominal cavity, ears, eyes, nose, and even the brain. Serious infection and even death may ensue.
Signs that Your Pet May be Affected by a Foxtail
Symptoms that your pet has an embedded foxtail are non-specific, meaning that there may be many causes for each of them. In other words, the following signs are not specific to an imbedded foxtail but are commonly noticed by pet owners:
- Non-healing wound or draining tracts
- Areas of swelling, redness, or discomfort
- Head shaking
- Ear/face scratching
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Decreased appetite
At-Home Care for Dogs with Foxtail Injuries
If the foxtail is visible and close to the surface, you may be able to remove it with tweezers. Once removed, the area should be thoroughly cleaned with an antiseptic soap. Monitor the area for ongoing swelling or pain and seek veterinary care if not improving within 24 hours. NEVER attempt to remove a foxtail from your pet’s eye, nose, ear, or mouth. Doing so may cause further damage and pain. A veterinarian should always address foxtails located in these areas.
Veterinary Care for Dogs with Foxtail Wounds
Once foxtails penetrate deeper tissues, veterinary care will be necessary. Surgical removal may become required. Depending on the location, sedation or general anesthesia will be needed for treatment. Hospitalization, pain medications, and antibiotics are often part of the treatment plan.
In severe cases, additional diagnostics may be needed to find the foxtail and evaluate the extent of secondary infections. Recommended tests might include x-rays, CT scan or MRI, spinal fluid analysis, and blood work.
How to Protect Your Dog from Foxtails and Cheatgrass
- Foxtails can be difficult to find, especially on pets with longer coats. If you live in an area where foxtails are present, consider a short, summer cut for long-coated companions
- Inspect and brush pets after spending time outside. Pay close attention to armpits, groin, and between toes.
- Avoid areas known to contain foxtails.
- Use a short leash when walking.
- Remove foxtail plants growing on your property.
- Protective vests, that cover the chest and abdomen, are available for dogs that spend a lot of time in foxtail-prone areas.
Although prevention may be difficult, knowing what to look for before and after you head outside will aid in minimizing the risk of foxtails affecting your pet.
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