Foxtails - Dangerous to Pets

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The hills are full of foxtails and now that the rains have stopped, they're drying up fast. We've already seen several patients for foxtail probes this spring. Foxtail-like clusters, seen on the stalks of certain grasses, are very dangerous for our pets once they dry and drop. These seed pods are not only barbed so that they stick tight to whatever they touch, they also contain an enzyme which breaks down cell matter. While this helps the seed to burrow into the ground it also allows them to stick to and burrow into our pets. Foxtails can work their way into your pet's skin, just as it does the soil, resulting in pain, discomfort, infection, and, in some cases, death.

Typical places for foxtails to embed are a pet's ears, nose, eyes, armpits, or between the toes, but they can work their way in wherever they attach. Depending on where and how deep it is, we may be able to remove a foxtail with tweezers or forceps. However, if it has migrated too far your pet will need to undergo surgery.

Obvious preventative measures are avoiding fields or trails where foxtails are prevalent and eradicating any from your yard. Since foxtails are designed to travel with the wind, they really can go anywhere. We recommend carefully examining pets after they've been outside to remove any rogue foxtails. If your pet has a long or thick coat, you may want to consider a body shave. Signs that your pet has an embedded foxtail include:

  • rubbing eyes, squinting, discharge from eyes
  • sneezing, pawing at nose, bleeding from nostril
  • shaking head, pawing at ear, head tilt
  • gagging, coughing, swallowing repeatedly
  • licking or chewing at a specific area, redness or swelling, limping

If you suspect a foxtail, call us immediately for our first available appointment. The sooner we can act, the less opportunity there is for the foxtail to migrate.