Avoid crafty foxtails on dog walks or risk pet undergoing anesthesia

Foxtails are found on many non-native grasses.

It is foxtail season, and a booming one it is.

Foxtails are seed awns produced by a number of non-native grasses. They're sort of torpedo shaped with tiny barbs that allow them to stick to anything with which they come in contact - including fur on animals.

Once attached, problems can occur. Because the barbs are angled to allow forward progress and disallow reverse, a foxtail can get into a dog's ear canal and continue to burrow down toward the ear drum. They can even penetrate through the drum and cause severe ear damage and infection. As one might imagine, this is uncomfortable for the dog. Dallas is an example of some of the problems that can occur.

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The 6-year-old golden retriever had six foxtails removed from her ears under anesthesia a few days after returning from a foothills camping trip. Recently, she has been paying an inordinate amount of attention to her perivulvar area, mostly licking excessively. Dawn, Dallas' owner, reports seeing a yellowish material in Dallas' bed after she gets up in the morning and thinks it is coming from her vulva.

I am highly suspicious it's due to another foxtail. The yellowish material in Dallas' bed is likely pus and the result of infection in her vaginal vault from the migrating foxtail. There are, of course, other possible causes. She may have a primary vaginal infection or even a urinary tract infection, but my money is on a vaginal foxtail.

Dallas will need to have a vaginal scoping to locate and remove the foxtail. This procedure almost always requires an anesthetic. She will need antibiotics for the infection.

I have seen cases where dogs are simply placed on antibiotics assuming a "simple" vaginal infection when, in fact, there is an underlying foxtail issue. These dogs will show improvement with antibiotic therapy, but, once stopped, the infection returns with a vengeance. If there is any possibility of a foxtail, it is always best to look.

So be on the lookout for foxtails and avoid them if possible. If you have them in your yard, get rid of them.

If you take your dog to areas where foxtails lurk, make sure you check them over after the day's play. Pay especially close attention between the toes, as foxtails can bore into the skin between the toes and migrate internally up the limbs. Check around the ears, and hope your dog didn't snort one up its nose. This almost always involves sneezing violently, so it is usually easy to note. Foxtails also can get into the eyes and cause damage to the cornea.

There are other places where foxtails can go in your dog's body, but the ones I've discussed are some of the more common. Cat caretakers beware, as well. Foxtails show no favoritism.

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