Foxtails cause numerous problems for pets. Foxtails commonly embed in the skin, ears, eyes, and nose. If your pet eats seeded grass, they may lodge in the throat, particularly behind the tonsils. If your pet squats low, they can also move into the penis or vulva. The sharp endpoints and microscopic barbs of foxtails ensure travel in only one direction – further inside the animal’s body. Once inside, foxtail removal becomes a surgical procedure and must be done by a veterinarian.
Foxtails occur in grassy, outdoor areas. Animals that hunt or play in uncut grass are at highest risk. Animals that do not go outside or that do not have access to grassy areas are at low risk.
Geography affects risk. Foxtails are very common in some areas (such as northern California), and less common in others (such as dense forests or deserts).
Due to feline grooming habits, foxtails are less likely to remain embedded in the skin of cats than that of dogs. However, foxtails commonly get stuck in a cats’ eye.
Animals with long, thick hair are more likely to attract and collect foxtails. Foxtails may blend in and go unnoticed (and therefore un-removed) in animals with tawny or straw-colored hair.
The CVMA recommends regular grooming of all pets that spend time outdoors. Without this, foxtails can become embedded in animals’ coats, eventually piercing their skin and causing infections.
Foxtails may get lodged around the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, coat, and paws. Pet owners should be aware of the following signs, which may indicate the presence of foxtails:
· 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
· Putrid 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
Don’t Delay contacting us if you notice any of the following:
· The skin and the area under the skin are the most common sites for foxtails in pets. The most frequently affected areas are the feet (especially the webbed areas between the toes) and the anterior portions of the chest and shoulders. Foxtails embedded in or under the skin cause swelling, pain, redness, and drainage of clear or bloody fluid from the site. Pets often lick the affected area of skin, and hair loss may occur. Limping is common if a foxtail is embedded in the foot.
· Foxtails located in the eye cause severe swelling, pain and discharge in the affected eye. The eye usually will be held tightly closed.
· If located in the nose, foxtails usually cause violent sneezing (cats, dogs). Mucus or blood may drain from one nostril.
· Foxtails located in the ear may cause head shaking, scratching or pawing at the ear, and an abnormal posture with one ear tilted downwards. An ear infection may develop in the affected ear, or the eye on the affected side may begin to appear abnormal.
· Foxtails that lodge behind the tonsils may cause a dry, honking cough (cats, dogs) or frequent, hard swallowing.
· Foxtails that migrate through the body can lodge in the lungs, heart, or other internal organs and may cause severe lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, coughing, or difficulty breathing.
Regardless of location, foxtails cause pain and irritation. They very frequently cause infection in the surrounding area. Foxtails in the skin may cause chronic draining sores. In the eyes, foxtails can cause ulcers and infection. Foxtails in the ear can cause ear infections, and can penetrate the ear drum to cause hearing damage and neurological problems.
Until they are removed, foxtails often cause chronic infection in and irritation to the structure in which they are located. The long-term nature of these issues can be extremely frustrating.
Foxtails have a tendency to migrate through the body, and can move to areas such as the lungs, heart, liver, or other internal organs. When located in these sites severe illness and death can occur.
Antibiotics often are used to treat infections that foxtails have triggered. Affected areas may be cleaned and flushed with antiseptic solutions. After a foxtail is located and removed, most symptoms resolve rapidly over 24 – 96 hours. Persistent symptoms may indicate the presence of additional foxtails or of other medical problems.
If a foxtail is suspected but cannot be located and removed, follow-up evaluation by a veterinarian may be necessary during the treatment period. In some cases, procedures to search for and remove foxtails must be repeated several times.
Prevention and Persistence: Win the foxtail war!
· If you live in an area where foxtails grow, remove weeds from your yard.
· Keep your dog away from grassy weeds when walking, hiking or hunting. Or, have them wear protective footwear.
· Discourage your dogs from chewing on grasses.
· If your pet has been outdoors in an area possibly infested with foxtails……
· Examine your pet daily. Carefully brush its hair, while feeling for any raised areas on its skin. Check inside and under its ears; check between the toes, under the armpits and in the groin area. Keep long haired and thick coated pets especially well-groomed.
If you see a foxtail seed sticking in your pet’s skin, carefully pull it straight out, making sure not to break it off in the process.
If you think a seed might already embedded in the skin, in a paw, in an eye or an ear, or if a pet who has been eating grass seems to have a throat problem, get it to a veterinarian as soon as possible! Waiting can only make it harder to find, allow it to migrate and become more dangerous, and make treatment more difficult.