Foxtails frequently cause a variety of problems in dogs in the warm, dry summer months
What are Foxtails?
Foxtail is the common name for a grass awn, a piece of wild grass containing a seed and several long bristles. Many different species of grass produce foxtails with different shapes and sizes. Foxtails are generally associated with warm, dry summer months, where they shed from grasses and fall to the ground. Their long bristles and sharp point allow them to embed in fur, aiding in spread of the seed far from the plant that grew it.
What kind of problems can Foxtails cause?
Foxtails themselves can get stuck in many locations because of their size, shape, and sharp point. Due to the shape of their bristles, they tend to move in one direction, which can potentially cause them to migrate within the body! The body has a hard time breaking down plant material, so foxtails can last a long time. Bacteria can survive on foxtails and evade antibiotics, potentially causing recurrent infections.
Foxtails can cause different problems depending on where they get stuck and migrate:
- Nose: Dogs can inadvertently inhale foxtails by sniffing the ground or running through tall grass. Due to their shape, foxtails can cause irritation to the nasal passages and get stuck within them, causing sneezing, reverse sneezing, pawing at the face, and nose bleeds.
- Ears: Foxtails can get stuck in the ear canals, causing irritation and recurrent ear infections. They can even injure the eardrum if left inside too long! Dogs with foxtails in their ears often shake their heads and scratch at their ears a lot.
- Paws: Foxtails can embed in fur on dogs’ paws. Their sharp points can potentially create a wound, and in some cases foxtails can migrate within the tissue of the paws, causing swelling of the paw, chronic infections, recurrent wounds, and limping.
- Mouth and Throat: Occasionally, dogs that chew plant material or chase balls into thickets of grass may get foxtails lodged between teeth or stuck in the throat. Foxtails stuck in the mouth commonly cause drooling, gagging or retching, and bad breath.
- Chest: In rare cases, foxtails can migrate to the lungs from the nose or throat. Migrating this way can result in a serious recurrent infection in the chest that may require interventions such as CT scan and surgery!
- Elsewhere: Foxtails can migrate anywhere in the body, causing chronic pain, recurrent fevers, and infections wherever they go. Foxtails migrating in this manner can be hard to diagnose, and may require diagnostics such as ultrasound, CT, or MRI to find.
What should I do if my pet has a problem associated with foxtails?
If your dog has any of the problems listed above, they should be seen by a veterinarian. Frequently, sedation is needed to fully investigate the area affected by foxtails. If a foxtail is present in the nose, for example, your veterinarian will likely give your pet a light sedative and use a narrow light source to visually inspect the nasal passages. Migrating foxtails may require more advanced diagnostics such as ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans to diagnose their presence.
How can I prevent foxtails from causing problems?
During the summer months, you should routinely check your pet’s coat and fur between his or her toes, especially after walks and spending time in the backyard. Remove them immediately if you find them. Discourage your pet from playing in or running through patches of tall grass. If there is a lot of tall grass in your yard, you may need to have it cut back. There are masks called OutFox Field Guards available that cover the face and reduce access to the nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Nor Cal Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital today!