If Alfred Hitchcock had made a movie to scare pet owners, he might have called it “The Foxtails.” Many animals can suffer from the sharp stickers of this grassy weed, warns the California Veterinary Medical Association.
“The foxtail seed pod is arrow-shaped with microscopic barbs on the pod that cause the pod to migrate in one direction,” says Dean Henricks, D.V.M., CVMA president. “The hair of the animal collects these pods and then the movement of the animal causes a slow but continuous movement of the foxtail inward to the skin of the animal.”
If not removed at or before this point “the foxtail will continue its migration and penetrate the skin causing an abscess or even become completely buried as a foreign body under the skin,” which requires surgery, he says.
Regular grooming and avoiding foxtails will help protect your dog. Henricks also advises watching for the following signs, which may indicate a foxtail invasion:
- Eye swollen shut or squinting with sticky discharge
- Sneezing or discharge from the nose, which may be bloody
- Repeated gagging or difficulty chewing or swallowing; not eating
- Odor from the mouth, ears or nose
- Head tilting, shaking or scratching at the ears
- Continuous licking or nipping at the paws or other area
- Open sores, which may be the remains of a burst abscess but can still have the foxtail inside
If you find a foxtail on your dog’s coat and away from his skin, pluck or comb it out. If you suspect a foxtail has come in contact with his skin, “get your pet to your veterinarian immediately,” Henricks says. “Pet owners need to guard against further damage.”