I recently moved to the area and have a dog and a cat. I have heard a lot of people talking about foxtails. What are they, and do I need to be concerned?
Foxtails are the flower or head of a certain type of grass weed. They primarily exist in western states, especially California, so if you moved from outside the state you probably have never come in contact with them. Here they are widespread. Once the weed matures and dries up, the tip which contains the seeds, breaks off and sticks like velcro to just about anything. This is how the weed spreads. The danger is that the foxtail has a sharp tip and tends to work its way into things in a one-way direction. Due to this design it does not readily back up. Think of it like a fish hook, with one way barbs, that allow it only to travel forwards. This is bad news if it somehow gets stuck on your pet and works its way into an ear, eye, nasal opening (nare), or pretty much any other body opening. In some cases they even work through the skin where their was no previous opening, especially between toes. Probably the most dangerous scenario is when one is swallowed or inhaled and migrates into the chest or abdomen, bringing infection with it.
Prevention requires good weed control, keeping tall grass, weeds and brush cut down regularly and avoiding areas that are known to be populated with foxtails. Do a good check over on your pet at least once a day and pull out any burs or foxtails that may be stuck in the fur. Additionally, you can decrease the risk to your long furred pets by grooming them in the summer.
Needless to say, if your pet is indoors only, it is not at risk. Cats tend to get foxtails less often than dogs, and dogs that roam freely on property and rummage through tall grass and brush are most at risk. Additionally, dogs that do a lot of sniffing of weeds and plants are at a higher risk of inhaling a foxtail. Anytime your pet suffers from skin swelling, constant sneezing, head shaking, or a swollen eye, you should have the problem checked out as soon as possible by your local veterinarian. If a foxtail is present, the sooner it is removed the better the chances of an uncomplicated recovery.
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Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.