Published in the May 23 – June 5, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty -Arcay
Foxtail season is here in the South Valley and it arrived with a bang. Foxtails are a barbed end of weeds that are very prevalent in this region. As the plants dry out, the barbed ends (commonly known as foxtails) are released from the rest of the plant. They fall to the ground or are blown to nearby areas. Foxtails wreak havoc on many pets. They are sniffed into the nose, become lodged in eyes, burrow into feet and can make their way into just about any other place in the body. Because of their barbed nature, once they become attached to the hair and pierce the skin, their migration is a one way street. Foxtails can migrate up the nose and into the lungs, from a foot up the entire leg or migrate to distance locations from any body orifice. I have even removed a foxtail from an ovary during a routine spay which had presumably migrated up the vagina. Their migrations can be serious and very costly.
Haircuts: Cutting hair is incredibly helpful in controlling foxtails. Long hair really makes it almost impossible to find foxtails … and it only takes one left behind to cause a problem. Extra short cutting or even shaving of the hair on the feet can be especially helpful. Foxtails in the feet are very hard to see. Getting hair off makes it harder for the foxtails to have something to grip onto and it’s easier to find and remove them before they become embedded.
Stay on Trails: If you frequent local trails, keep your dog on a short leash and on the trail. This will drastically limit their exposure.
Limit Foxtails: If you have foxtails on your property, limit them as much as possible or keep them mowed down. Mowing decreases (but does not eliminate) the chances of them becoming embedded. The problem is foxtails on the ground can definitely still be an issue.
Check Your Pet: Perform a foxtail check on your pet after walks in areas with foxtails or daily if you have foxtails on your property. Look between all the toes on each foot, look in the ears and look for any in the coat.
Foxtails cannot always be avoided but using good grooming, regular checks and some common sense can go a long way. Here are some telltale signs of a foxtail:
- Violent sneezing (which may include some bleeding from the nose)
- Unrelenting head-shaking
- Squinting of the eye that starts suddenly, especially after having been out around foxtails (most common foxtail issue seen in cats)
- Swelling and/or draining tracts between toes
- Non-healing wounds/draining tract and abscesses in dogs
- Vaginal discharge in dogs who have been spayed
Treatment of foxtails entails its removal, which is sometimes easier said than done.
Many people in other parts of the country have never heard of foxtails. Here, they are a curse for many pet owners. They are definitely a nuisance, but educating yourself and your family along with some preventative measures can help limit encounters with these barbed pests.
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.
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