It’s that time of year that most veterinarians in Northern California dread — foxtail season.

A foxtail is a dried clump of grass that comes to a hard, barbed point. There are several types of grasses that form foxtails. As the weather warms, the foxtails dislodge and attach to passing creatures in an attempt to spread seeds. Once the barbed clump attaches, it can work its way past fur and into the skin.

Around May, June and July we see a ton of pets (usually dogs) for myriad problems secondary to foxtails. Foxtails most often lodge between the toes, in the ears and up the nose. I’ve even removed an occasional foxtail from underneath the third eyelid and from within the vulva. Once a foxtail has breached the skin, it will burrow deeper into a pet and often migrate to other parts of the body. This can ultimately become dangerous if it happens to migrate to the lungs or abdominal canal.

In most cases a foxtail can be removed from an ear canal without sedation (if the pet will allow it). Probing a draining tract (open sore) between the toes often requires either local anesthesia or sedation. Scoping a nasal cavity generally requires general anesthesia, at least in my experience. Often a draining tract has to be re-explored multiple times until finally the little culprit is finally found. This most often occurs when they burrow between the toes and then migrate a distance up the leg.

Foxtails will most commonly be found in fields that are dry or ones that have tall grass. Be cognizant in the coming few months where your dogs are roaming on their walks. I would try to avoid areas where you see signs of foxtails — you can often see the occasional one scattered on the ground.

There are products you can purchase for your dog to help prevent the lodging of foxtails, though some dogs may be more amenable than others to actually wearing them. They make dog slippers that Velcro on to cover the toes. There are also mesh face coverings that can be applied to prevent foxtails from getting into the ears or up the nose.

My best advice would be to just avoid the foxtail hotspot areas altogether. After a walk, check between your dog’s paw pads and toes for any burrs or foxtails that can be easily picked out before they lodge. If your dog has long hair between the toes, ask your groomer to trim the hair between the paw pads and toes periodically.

Summer is coming and everyone wants to get out in the sun. It’s a great time of year for outdoor activities, but just take precautions to avoid a trip to the vet. Don’t let those pesky foxtails rain on your parade. 

Brandon Wilson is a Pacifica resident. He is a 2009 graduate of University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. He has been a full-time veterinarian at Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital for the last nine years.

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