Foxtails can hurt dogs, here's what to do – Reno Gazette Journal

The invasive weeds and wild grasses blanketing Northern Nevada after a record winter are potentially dangerous for pets — and expensive for their owners.
Foxtails in particular are short weeds with little … well … fuzzy foxtails on the ends. Those foxtails are the grass seeds that come off easily onto clothes or fur. Their spiny structures dig their way into pets’ fur, skin, ears, eyes, noses, mouths and genitals and are difficult to remove.
Left untreated, foxtails can cause infection or even work their way into the brains of animals and lead to death, according to Pet WebMD.
“One day last week, we had five dogs come in with them,” said Dr. Christina Martini, a veterinarian at Southwest Veterinary Hospital in Reno. “I’ve never seen it kill a dog, but hypothetically it could.”
She said the pet hospital treats one to two dogs a day normally but this year they’ve treated five to eight dogs each day. 
Foxtails also go by the name wild barley, cheatgrass, needlegrass, bromegrass and spear grass. Foxtail weed is ubiquitous in the region and found in yards, sidewalks, parks, open fields and mountain trails — all the places people love to take their pets.
The problem is common — in June alone, three RGJ staffers took their dogs to vets for foxtails in their paws, ears and throat. 
Dan Lazzareschi, a local dog owner, said his dog had eight foxtails removed at the vet this week.
“He’s fine,” Lazzareschi said. “Had licked his toes a bit raw trying to get them out, but not having a problem now that they are pulled. Past years and dogs have gotten them stuck up the nose.”
Martini said it’s often difficult for pet owners to see foxtails because they quickly burrow into small places or under skin.
“We’re seeing them the most in between dog’s toes,” she said. 
They don’t always cause bleeding either, Martini said, so people have to watch the dog’s behavior.
The symptoms can appear subtle at first: scratching, biting, licking the area, shaking their head or even sneezing, which can be a sign that a foxtail is lodged in their nose. If the dog persists in these behaviors, it’s time to take a look at the area bothering them.
Martini said the strangest case she saw recently was a foxtail that made its way into a dog’s tear duct.
Her colleague Dr. Sarah Wilson noticed the dog pawing at its face and that clued her in to where the foxtail was hiding.
“I was amazed she even found it,” Martini said.
The vet bills for removing the foxtail and treating infection depend on whether the dog needs to be sedated, requires surgery or has suffered worse symptoms.
If the foxtail is stuck in the ears, nose or mouth, vets often need to sedate the dog to avoid injury during removal. If it’s stuck in their toes, it might be easier.
“If it’s infected, we have to lance it and drain the pus because it can be several centimeters up the paw,” she said.
Lancing involves cutting open the swollen area with a scalpel. 
A California veterinary hospital posted an X-ray on Facebook showing a foxtail migrating several inches up a dog’s forearm.
If you find foxtails in your yard, Martini and WebMD recommend keeping the heads cut short with lawn mowers and weed wackers.
When taking the dog for a walk, avoid areas with the cheatgrass, if possible. But if pets run through it anyway, give them a thorough de-foxtailing afterward and get the tweezers ready to remove any foxtails on their body, inside ears or other crevices before they have a chance to migrate.
WebMD even recommends checking inside their mouths and ears with a flashlight.
To lessen the risk of foxtails, some companies sell protective masks, which look slightly macabre. Martini also recommended this mask and said the dogs don’t mind them.
Regular dog shoes can also protect their pads. Keeping dogs’ hair short during summer and even asking groomers for poodle-cut paws will make it easier for owners to see and remove strays before they dig in, Martini said.
But, if sores or inflammation appear, take the animal to the vet immediately instead of attempting home remedies because the foxtail might be too deep to remove without medical tools.
“If you think your dog has a foxtail, it’s a good idea to bring them in to get treated sooner than later before it turns into an infection or the foxtail goes deeper,” Martini said. 
Mike Higdon is the city life reporter at the RGJ and can be found on Instagram @MillennialMike, on Facebook at Mike Higdon, Reno Life and on Twitter@MikeHigdon.


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