Beware the Foxtail Plant: A Danger for Your Beloved Pet
The foxtail plant is a grass-like weed that is prominent during spring and summer in many parts of the country. These plants have a nasty barbed structure that hook into an animal’s skin and can cause severe damage.
Our veterinary clinics begin seeing a lot of dogs with foxtail injuries this time of year. So be extra careful and know what to do if your pet comes into contact with foxtails.
“The most common thing we see is when the barbed portion of the plant works its way between toes or into ears and noses,” says San Francisco SPCA Veterinarian Dr. Nicolette Zarday.
Dr. Zarday explains that the most dangerous exposure to this plant is when a dog inhales a piece of the feathery-looking barb. This typically happens if a dog is running and leaping through a field of foxtail plants, mouth wide open. As the dog takes a deep breath, the foxtail can end up in the lower airways of the lungs. Thankfully this is rare but can ultimately be fatal.
Look for Signs Your Dog or Cat Might Have A Foxtail Injury
We recommend checking your dog’s coat for foxtails after every outing, especially between the toes and around the ears. You might notice some swelling around the paws or your pet might lick an area more than usual.
After piercing the skin and entering the body, foxtails can migrate under the skin if left untreated. (Cats can also get foxtail injuries but it is less likely than with dogs.) Foxtails can also get caught in the eyes, nose, genital areas, or almost anywhere in the coat.
What You Can Do To Protect Your Pet
- Keep your dog’s coat short during the spring and summer, especially around the feet. There are groomers who will do a “foxtail cut” if requested.
- After each walk, check your pet thoroughly and remove any plant material from their bodies. If you see barbs from foxtails, use tweezers to remove them.
- If your pet suddenly starts sneezing uncontrollably, squinting, or shaking its head during or immediately after a walk, there is an excellent chance a foxtail is involved. Call your veterinarian’s office.
- Do not allow your pet to run through fields of tall grass that contain foxtails.
Thankfully, aware pet owners can lessen the incidence of foxtail injuries. But be on the lookout and be very careful to check all over your pet after being outdoors. Foxtails can blow through the air on windy days so even if you are just out walking with your pet, they can find land and attach on their coat or paws.
If you suspect your precious pet has a foxtail injury, please call 415-554-3030.
Be vigilant out there during this time and pay a bit more attention to how your pet is acting after being outside. We continue to be here to serve you and your pet during shelter-in-place. Remember that our SF SPCA online pharmacy is an easy and convenient way to restock special pets foods and vital medicines or supplements.