Published in the June 21 – July 4, 2017 of Morgan Hill Life
By Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay
We are currently in the midst of what we expect to be one of the worst foxtail seasons in Morgan Hill in recent times. Foxtails are a small, barbed weed which can become a medical nightmare for many pets and their owners.
They are indigenous to this area and especially common in the rural areas and in unlandscaped yards. They are commonly a problem during the warmer months when the weeds have dried out and/or are being mowed down.
Due to unseasonably wet conditions this year, the grasses had a chance to flourish before drying out, leaving more abundant dry material now and to come during the next few months as these weeds continue to dry out.
Foxtails often become lodged in eyes, ears, feet, noses and just about anywhere else you can imagine. Because of the barbed structure of the foxtail, they only move in one direction and have the potential for migrating extraordinary distances through tissue.
Eyes: In the eyes, foxtails typically become partially embedded in the pink tissue and often rub large abrasions on the corneal surface. In many cases, the foxtail is not visible (especially in cats) but the pet is in a lot of pain and squinty in the affected eye.
The foxtail is usually easily removed but may require additional treatment and can cause severe damage to the eye. Even if you are able to remove the foxtail, make sure that your veterinarian checks the eye for ulceration, which may require additional treatments.
Ears: Dogs commonly get foxtails in their ears and will exhibit unrelenting shaking and rubbing of the affected ear.
These foxtails are rarely visible with the naked eye and require an otoscopic exam to look deep in the canal. Some dogs require sedation to remove the foxtail since they are so painful. It is also important to have your veterinarian check for any signs of infection, which can look similar to a foxtail.
Feet: Dogs roaming areas with foxtails often get them lodged between the toes. They usually leave behind a small tract or opening between the toes which will be a constant source of discomfort, licking and drainage. Dogs often require sedation to remove the foxtail and left untreated the foxtails can travel long distances with their barbed ends.
Nose: The always curious canine often ends up snorting up a foxtail. They will sneeze incessantly until the foxtail is removed, which is typically under sedation. If left untreated, they have been known to migrate into the airways and lungs, causing severe disease.
Foxtails can lodge just about anywhere else … skin folds, anus, vagina or even make their own tract in the skin anywhere on the body.
Foxtails have been known to lodge in some of the strangest places … just use your imagination! They can be very difficult to find, very costly and sometimes life-threatening.
It is not uncommon for pets to require one or sometimes even multiple surgeries in the hunt for a wayward foxtail. We have seen foxtails travel several feet through a dog before being retrieved, sometimes weeks or months later.
Here are a few hints to help prevent a foxtail nightmare.
• If your dog has access to foxtails or is walked in an area with foxtails, always check him/her daily for signs of lingering foxtails in their coat.
• If your pet has long hair and foxtail access, have the hair trimmed during foxtail season to minimize foxtail adhesion and make it easier to spot foxtails in the coat.
• If your pet tends to get foxtails in his/her feet, have them wear booties while out on walks in foxtail regions.
• If you observe any open tracts in your pet’s feet, head shaking, sneezing, squinty eyes or other suspicious lesions, contact your veterinarian immediately.
• Always have your pet seen right away if you suspect that a foxtail has become lodged somewhere in the body.
Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay received her undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry and Spanish from the College of Notre Dame, Belmont. She graduated from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.