Foxtails and Your Pet: A True Hazard

SONY DSCMany pet owners have been confronted with an unexpected veterinary visit in the spring and summer months after their dog has a run-in with foxtails (also known as cheatgrass). Did you realize this abundant foliage poses a hazard to your pet?

Bromus tectorum can potentially cause very serious health problems in dogs. The head of this weed is designed to burrow into the ground when it falls off of the plant, but its sharp awns can also burrow into your pet if you are not careful.

Here’s what to know about foxtails and your pet:

What Happens When Pets Encounter Foxtails?

When a foxtail falls onto a pet’s fur, movement causes the plant to begin to vibrate down into the animal’s skin. They may continue to move into your pet’s body once embedded, causing serious issues. It is pretty amazing how efficient they are at travelling through the body. Once in the dog, they can end up pretty much anywhere. Some of the more common problem sites include:

  • Paws – A foxtail that becomes lodged between the toes or paw pads can cause a painful abscess, causing limping and excessive licking at the area.

  • Ears – A foxtail head that finds its way into an ear canal is often driven deeper as the pet shakes its head. Untreated, a dog with a foreign object such as this in the ear can develop an infection.

  • Nose – Because dogs often sniff the ground, foxtails frequently end up lodged in the nasal passages. This can cause sneezing, bleeding, or nasal discharge. If the foxtail is not removed, it may make its way to the lungs or even the spinal column.

How Are Foxtails Treated?

Once a foxtail is embedded, it must be removed. This may require sedation or anesthesia depending on where the plant’s awn has dug in. If there is infection associated with the awn, antibiotics are appropriate. If you find a foxtail that has already begun to burrow, it is important to have it removed before it migrates further.

How Can I Help My Pet Avoid Problems?

The best way to deal with foxtails is to try to avoid them altogether. With a little effort, you can keep your pet free of this weedy nuisance. Be sure to keep your dog’s coat trimmed, especially the fur between the toes. Also remember to thoroughly brush your pet and go over the common problem areas after you are out so that you can remove any foxtails before they can dig in.

Become familiar with what foxtails or cheat grass looks like and try to avoid areas that are heavily overgrown with it. Likewise, be sure to control any foxtail growth in your yard, too.

Any time your dog is scratching its ears, shaking its head, sneezing, drooling, licking an area, or is having any other unusual symptoms, it is important to get it checked out right away. The longer a foxtail is embedded, the more damage it can cause. Fortunately, this weed is only around for a few months a year, and with some extra attention you can avoid serious problems.