Foxtail plants love to grow in California. In the springtime, after drinking in the late winter rains, the foxtail will flourish, its barbed pointed-head sitting on top of a bushy stem, just waiting to pierce some unsuspecting creature. They congregate in long green grassy fields, grow rampant along hiking trails or perhaps are taking over your yard. They wave in the wind, and look soft and inviting, but don’t be fooled – they are dangerous and can be deadly to your dog.
Aptly named after the tail of the fox they resemble, your dog need merely brush by the plant for the foxtail to be carried on-board, landing in your dog’s fur, and unless you stop it, soon to pierce through the skin and then travel INSIDE your dog. The barb-like tip of the plant, seemingly with a devious mind of its own, propels itself forward – the only direction it can go. The foxtail can become embedded ANYWHERE in your dog, however the most popular spots are the paws, between the toes, and the ears. But foxtails are not fussy – and will penetrate at any location, traveling up the leg perhaps and down to the bone or pushing up the nose into the nasal membrane, down the ear and through the eardrum, into the penis, through the mouth, or potentially through the eyes and into the brain. At the very least, foxtails are annoying. At their worst, they are killers. In between, may be an expensive surgery as your veterinarian searches inch by inch to find the invading culprit.
You need to get the foxtail out of your dog as soon as possible. This means taking your dog to the vet immediately if you’re unable to find it. Depending on the foxtail location, your dog will exhibit different symptoms. If your dog limps, is incessantly chewing or licking his/her foot or you see some swelling, suspect a foxtail in the paw. This is when you need to sit down and thoroughly examine each paw, carefully feeling between each toe. You may feel the sharp point of the foxtail embedded into the deepest part of the skin between the toes. Pull it out and get that thing out of there! A foxtail in the ear may be manifested by your dog shaking his/her head, or scratching at the ear. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. To the vet you go! Note that if you find one, there will most likely be more.
Sneezing, especially continually sneezing, can be one of the first signs of a foxtail in the nose. This may be accompanied by nasal discharge and/or swelling. Ocular discharge indicates a possible foxtail in the eye. You cannot put off taking your dog to the vet. These things travel! If the vet cannot find the foxtail in the initial examination, you may be looking at an expensive surgery. Foxtails have even been deadly in cases where they’ve penetrated into the brain or other organs, with euthanasia as the sad fate of the dog.
Ask any vet or veterinarian technician if they see alot of people in the summer whose dogs have foxtails and you will hear an emphatic ‘yes.’ Ask them how to avoid foxtails, and they will tell you to stay away from them. Should you make a mistake and accidently allow your furry friend to happily romp through a foxtail-infested field, you must sit down and painstakingly search everywhere on your dog. Look into the ears, then carefully and slowly feel down the head and down the back to the tail. Run your hands from the tip of the tail, up towards the back, on both sides of the tail. This makes it easier to feel the pointed head of the embedded foxtail. Running your hand in reverse of the direction the fur lies, will help you find the sharp point of the foxtail.
Lift the tail and check the anus area. Have the dog lie down while you feel very carefully over the abdomen and chest, checking the armspits and insides of the legs. Foxtails also love the outsides of legs, and this area should be checked and rechecked. Spend alot of time checking the paws and between the toes and don’t forget the face. Lift the lips, check around the eyes and nose and take off the collar to thoroughly examine all around the neck.
Educate yourself – learn what a foxtail looks like and stay away! They are a menace in the spring and summer but by late fall they should be gone. Then you’ll have the hiking trails and fields and even your own yard, once again, foxtail free – for at least a few welcome winter months.