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Posted on 03-11-2016

Although walking your dog through any of the beautiful Bay Area trails and parks is a wonderful way to spend time with your furred companion, it is not without its perils: enter the dreaded foxtail.  The foxtail— a type of plant seed often found on trails or pathways where wild grasses grow and which looks like a tiny barbed structure— has the capacity to burrow its way into nearly any part of your dog’s body, including, most dangerously, your pet's nose, mouth, ears, or eyes.

The potential damage that these little intruders can create is much greater than their size would suggest; left untreated, foxtails can cause serious infections and abscesses to form inside and out of your animal companion. Here are some of the major symptoms to watch out for: 

  • Nose: A foxtail inhaled through a dog’s nose often manifests as a sudden onset of sneezing, sometimes accompanied by bloody discharge from the nostril.
  • Mouth: When inhaled through the mouth foxtails can cause sudden and acute coughing and hacking. 
  • Eye: A foxtail in the eye can cause swelling, redness and discharge.
  • Ear: When lodged in the ear, foxtails can cause dogs to continually shake their heads and scratch at their ears. 
  • Foot and Paws: Foxtails also like to nestle themselves between toes and can be tricky to spot and remove. If your dog suddenly starts to chew at his or her foot, there may be a foxtail lodged in there. 

The only sure-fire way of guarding against foxtails is prevention; avoid grassy areas (especially during dry times in the spring, summer, and fall) and, if you do take your dog through an area with foxtail potential, be sure to comb through their fur afterwards to check for any unwanted passengers that may have grabbed on while you were out. 

Even the most fastidious foxtail investigator can overlook these little seeds, and, in the unfortunate event that a foxtail finds its way into your dog’s eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, there can be little for you as an owner to do. In these instances, the best course of action is to contact your veterinarian. 

So what should you expect when bringing in your pet for foxtail removal? Depending on where the foxtail is and how tolerant your dog is to probing, we may need to sedate your pet in order to safely remove the foxtail. After the foxtail has been removed we will also look to see if there is any lingering infection and will send home antibiotics if necessary. And, just to be safe, we do a thorough comb through of your pet to make sure that there aren’t any more troublesome seeds hiding in your animal’s fur. 

Who would have thought that a little plant could pose such a threat to our animal companions?

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