Vail Pet Talk column: It’s foxtail season for our dogs
July 29, 2016
Foxtails, or grass awns, are in season, and it is not good news for dogs — so yes, great, another thing to worry about. We saw five cases last week alone and they were in all the usual places: ears, eyes, skin and paws.
Foxtails are the seeds or awns of our native grass. They can get stuck anywhere on a pet and, if caught early, can be easily removed at home. The problems arise because these deviously nature-designed seeds have barbs like fishhooks. Thus, they can and often do burrow into the aforementioned locations and cause infections. When they do, they need to be removed under sedation and the wound needs to be opened up to assure all of the foxtail is removed. Antibiotics and routine wound care follow.
Foxtails in the ears are a common and particularly difficult situation. It can be frustrating to locate and remove them, requiring special instrumentation, namely, an operating otoscope head and alligator forceps. They often penetrate the eardrum and cause a nasty middle and outer ear infection. Ouch.
Because of the insidious burrowing nature and sharp point, it has been reported that foxtails can travel inward and burrow into the lungs, other internal organs and even travel to the spinal cord and brain. I'd relax about that, though; I've never heard of any veterinarians out here having seen cases like that. But you know that darn Murphy's Law: If it can happen, it'll likely happen to my dog.
There are a number of ways to prevent foxtails. First, inspect your dog's feet, eyes, ears, nose, mouth and lower extremities after your dog runs in a field of native grasses. Look between the toes and check the pads on the bottom of your dog's feet. Check inside the ears and in your pet's mouth.
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If you see grass awns, then simply pull them out with tweezers, trying to get the whole seed out. Then clean the area with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment. For the next few days, observe the area closely for infections (you know: redness, swelling, heat, pain, discharge). If you find one in your pet's eye, then do not pull it out; let your veterinarian do that, as injuries to the eyes can be very serious. I would advise the same if you find one in your dog's nose; the nose is a very sensitive tissue with a rich blood supply. Injuries there cause a lot of bleeding, and if you pull it out unsupervised, it may bleed a lot.
Here are a few more prevention tips: If your dog has very long hair and spends a lot of time outside, clipping the feet and lower legs will help. There are also protective vests you can buy commercially or online that help protect your pet against grass awns. Be cautious allowing your pets to run in fields of native grasses that are blooming or seeding. That seems to be occurring now downvalley in Eagle and Gypsum.
Foxtails are a nuisance; they can be costly to you and painful for your pets. Use some of the above tips to try to prevent them. An ounce of prevention here is worth more than a pound of cure.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at the clinic at 970-524-3647, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and by visiting the clinic website, http://www.gypsunmah.com.