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Tips & Tricks with Sylvia Wes: Summer Safety - Foxtails

Credits: Luisiana Lin, James Daniel⁣⁣⁣⁣, Sylvia Wes


Summer safety tips to keep your dog safe and healthy.

Foxtails are a nuisance weed found commonly on trails and even certain parts of the city where overgrown grass can be located. Foxtails are a type of grass and can often look like a barley or wheat stalk. You might first notice these pesky plants as green lush "weed", often times with a purplish hue to them. In the summer, these plants dry out and the seeds become dangerous hitchhikers. You might find them stuck to your shoe or pants, even worse, your dog.

When they are green these seeds are for the most part harmless. However, once the seeds have begun to dry (even just a little) it's time to do due diligence and keep away from them. In the summer, it's best to avoid narrow trails where escaping them can be difficult or impossible. Did you perhaps notice these green lush bushes growing in the spring near your home or on your favorite trail?

It might be best to avoid that path or choose a different hiking spot. Keep your dog away from edges of paths where wild bushes tend to grow and keep them on trails. There are plenty of wide open trails to choose from in Los Angeles. Following leash laws help reduce your dog’s ability to run off trail and into a foxtail bush.

After your hike....

Do a thorough check on your dog to see if they might have picked up one of these pesky seeds. Common areas are ears, paws and underbelly. If your dog wandered off the trail into a suspicious overgrowth it would be wise to do an on trail inspection. This can help avoid dangerous happenstances such as: a foxtail embedding in their paw or traveling deep into the ear canal.

Use this simple guide as a reference point if you suspect your dog might have a “foxtail problem”:

Foxtails in paws

Symptoms might include continual licking of the foot or pad, bumpy swelling between the toes, or a small hole. If you do notice an infection appearing in between your dog's toes or toe pads, a trip to the vet is in order. The wound will need to be cleaned and often lanced to help create and exit for the awn. Soaking it in antiseptic water can help the abscess forming to a point and expel the seed, medical treatment is strongly recommended.

Foxtails in ears

A foxtail in your dog's ear can occur when a foxtail travels into the ear canal toward the drum. Symptoms include: head tilting or head shaking. If the foxtail has traveled far enough, loss of balance and falling over may also occur. Get help immediately if you suspect your dog has a foxtail in their ear. Long term hearing damage can be caused from damage to the eardrum.

Foxtails in eyes

Running through a field unprotected can leave your dog susceptible to getting a foxtail anywhere on their head. Getting a foxtail in their eye, however could lead to serious ulcers and even blindness. Symptoms: excessive redness, Squinting, excessive discharge, an eye glued shut.

Foxtails in noses

Do you have an avid sniffer? Keeping these dogs on trail and out of thickets. Foxtails in your dog's nose can travel and exit through their eyes, causing irreparable damage to both. Symptoms to look out for are: Violent, explosive, serial sneezing with potential for bloody discharge. If you think your dog may have a foxtail in their nose, go to your nearest Vet for immediate medical attention.

Foxtails in underbelly

A dog’s soft underbelly is a prime location for foxtails to embed. They can become entangled in their fur and if left unattended find their way into your dog’s. If they travel far enough they can cause damage to muscle tissue and organs as they move through your dog’s body. Symptoms can include: a sore on their underbelly, abscess, a small hole indicating a puncture wound.

Come prepared!

Keep a brush in your car or dog walking bag. A slicker brush works best for this job as its fine dense teeth are designed for mat and undercoat removal. Foxtails can become entangled in your dog's fur making them not only hard to find but also difficult to remove. A slicker brush can help remove excess fur and undercoat that is already shedding due to summer heat. Furthermore, the fine teeth can capture a few foxtails of their own.

Once you've done a full check at home, if you suspect more foxtails or if your dog seems sensitive or irritated in private areas, bring your dog to the vet. Removing foxtails in dogs before they become embedded will prevent dangerous infections, abscesses and more.

Other preventative measures can be taken in the summer: regular visits to the groomer to keep up on shedding and keep sanitary areas clean and short can help prevent foxtails getting caught in mattes in your dog’s fur.

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