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Foxtails - A Deadly Summertime Danger

Most people living in the Eastern U.S. haven't heard of foxtails and how dangerous they can be to dogs. Foxtails are grass-like weeds which resemble the tails of foxes and are usually found only in states west of the Mississippi. Southern California has a variety of wild grasses with similar characteristics. These annual grasses are often found in weedy areas along paths and roads. From January until about March or early April, they are soft and green. In late spring, however, the seed heads begin to dry and the the danger begins, lasting throughout the summer until fall rains.
The seeds of the drying or dried grasses detach from the plant and stick to a person's clothes or an animal's hair. They can easily become lodged between a dogs toes, in its ears, and in its eyes. Since the seeds are barbed like a fish hook, they can be very difficult to remove. Once embedded, foxtail seeds cause severe infections and abcesses.

The telltale symptoms....
A foxtail seed can cause an inflamed, painful, infected lump anywhere on an animal's body. A dog with a foxtail seed in its ear might rub its head on the ground or shake its head violently from side to side. If a dog gets a foxtail seed in its eye, it might squint. The eye will water and the dog will paw at it. Even if you can clearly see the seed beneath the eyelid, do not attempt to remove it. Get the dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Depending on the location of the seed or seeds, other symptoms are compulsive licking and biting at a paw or around the groin or rectal area or whining and crying with no obvious or acute injury.

In addition to causing pain and localized infections, foxtail seeds can migrate and lodge in the spine, in the lungs and in other internal organs. They enter through the nose, ears, paws, eyes, urethra or just through the skin and travel through the body The seeds are very small, making locating them a painful, difficult and expensive procedure. Depending on where a foxtail seed has traveled to inside a dog, it can even be life threatening and will require prompt surgical removal.

An inhaled foxtail seed which has lodged in the nasal cavity may cause violent sneezing, sometimes with a bloody discharge from the nostrils. To remove it, a veterinarian may need to sedate the animal, locate the seed with a scope, and remove it with a forceps.

Swallowed foxtail seeds lodged in the throat will cause symptoms of an inflamed sore throat. A dog will swallow repeatedly, gulp, cough and gag. Even if the barbed seeds can be detected on examination, the dog will need to be sedated to relax the throat muscles so a veterinarian can grasp the seeds and remove them.

Prevent foxtail tragedies....

  • If you live in an area where foxtails grow, remove weeds from your yard.
  • Keep your dog away from grassy weeds when walking, hiking or hunting.
  • Discourage your dogs from chewing on grasses.

    If your dog has been outdoors in an area possibly infested with foxtails......

  • Examine your pet daily. Carefully brush its hair, while feeling for any raised areas on its skin. Check inside and under its ears; check between the toes, under the armpits and in the groin area. Keep long haired and thick coated breeds especially well-groomed.
  • If you see a foxtail seed sticking in the dog's skin, carefully pull it straight out, making sure not to break it off in the process.
  • If you think a seed might already embedded in the skin, in a paw, in an eye or an ear, or if a dog who has been eating grass seems to have a throat problem, get the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible! Waiting can only make it harder to find, allow it to migrate and become more dangerous, and make treatment more difficult.

    If you live in an area where foxtails grow, or if you're planning to travel west with your dog this summer, especially to California or other Southwestern states, learn how to identify these deadly wild grasses so you can avoid them.

    For more information, see ----

    A Dog Owners' Guide to California Foxtails

    Foxtails Can Be Hazardous to Your Pet's Health



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    More Summer Hazards - See....

    Mushrooms - Deadly Poisons in Your Own Backyard

    and

    Danger - Giant Toads

    and

    Other warm weather issues,,
    including parked cars and heatstroke, water hazards, and riding safely in pick-up trucks.



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