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Even grasses - foxtails - can pose a problem for our beloved pets

by Dr. Fred Conkel — Veterinarian
| July 16, 2013 11:02 AM

Foxtail is a name commonly given to the barb-like seeds of many wild grasses and grains.  These may be true foxtails or awns of many other species such as wild barley or wild oats.  

No matter what name they go by, they spell “trouble” for animals.  These grasses sprout in the early spring and produce their awns with the first warm weather.  As soon as the climate turns warm and dry, the awns dry and release.  As dogs and cats run through fields and barnyards, they contact the plants and often kick up the awns.

 The awns may lodge in the hair of the ears and progress down the ear canal.  There, they will create pain, irritation, infection, and sometimes damage the ear.  These awns should be removed before they cause chronic problems.

 Foxtails commonly lodge under the eyelids where they rub at the surface of the eye.  This causes the animal to squint the eye and will cause the eye to water because of the discomfort.  This condition calls for prompt removal of the awn before there is damage to the eye.

 Dogs are especially prone to having foxtails lodge in a nostril as they run through the grass with the awns at nose level.  This causes the animal to exhibit fits of sneezing that may occur almost without stopping.  The awns must be removed (usually under anesthesia) before they are inhaled too far up the nostril where simple retrieval could be impossible or where bleeding from the nostril might be substantial.

 Dogs also commonly get foxtails caught in the hair between the toes or in long hair anywhere in the body.  The awns work their way through the skin and creates an abscess in the feet causing lameness.

Outdoor dogs should have long hair clipped as short as is practical and should be combed.

 If this practice is followed, the owner can often detect awns before they fully penetrate the skin and remove them before any abscess has been started.  The owner must “look” with his fingers as well as with his eyes if he is going to find foxtails in the body hair.  This service to the pet is well worth the trouble.

(Dr. Fred Conkel is veterinarian at Westgate Clinic.)