Can you tell what you’re looking at??? Here’s a hint, you’re looking at something that does not belong in the body. If you are a lucky pet owner that has not had to deal with foxtails or if you are new to the west coast, you are looking at the ultrasound image of a foxtail under the skin! Summer is upon us and in the hospital our doctors and staff know that means it is foxtail season.
Foxtail grass is a tall grass that grows commonly in the western United States. Foxtails are the barbed seed of the grass and they are very prominent in the spring through the summer. While romping around in a grassy field is fun and a great form of exercise, these pesky seeds are notorious for causing big problems for our pets.
The foxtail seeds have barbed ends. These barbs enable the seed to burrow into the skin of an animal. These barbs enable the seed to burrow in one direction, so once they embed into the skin they continue in a forward motion.
Foxtails can be found anywhere on your pet’s body. The ears, nose, eyes, in between toes, and genitals . . . there is no place a foxtail won’t go. Symptoms will vary depending on where the foxtail embeds. A foxtail in the ear can cause head shaking and scratching (your pet will focus on the ear that has the foxtail in it). Foxtails in the nose will cause a sudden increase in sneezing and perhaps even a bloody discharge. When foxtails embed between toes they can cause swelling and your pet will want to chew and lick at the foot. Foxtails can even find their way into your pet’s eyes causing them to squint and be very painful. If left untreated, foxtails cause major problems. Foxtails can cause infections and abscesses in the body and while we have listed some of the more common places foxtails can go there is really no place in the body that is safe from a foxtail.
In preparation for foxtail season there are some things you can do to help your pet. First, if you have foxtail grass in your yard it’s great to trim the grass back. It’s also a good idea to keep your pet away from spaces that have an abundance of foxtail grass as well. These areas can range from open spaces to hiking trails. Consider limiting your pet to just the paved part of the trail or try sidewalks and more urban areas. If your dog has a thick coat, it is easy for foxtails to be picked up in their hair so consider trimming them down to keep their coat short for the summer. This will make foxtails easier for you to see and feel. You can also brush your pet more frequently during foxtail season, brushes can pull foxtails out of the coat before they have a chance to embed into the skin. Check all feet after being outside. You should be checking in between their toes and the bottoms of their feet to be sure a foxtail is not hiding there.
If you are suspicious that your dog has a foxtail the first thing to do is to call your veterinarian’s office. Even if you aren’t sure that your pet has a foxtail it is better to err on the side of caution and give your vet a call. If your pet does have a foxtail embedded somewhere the foxtail must be removed. Sometimes this will require sedation or general anesthesia depending on where the foxtail is. After the foxtail is removed your pet may be treated with anti-inflammatories, pain medications, and or antibiotics to help your pet recover.