Foxtails 2017

Perhaps it is time to raise the subject of foxtails. Not the prize at the end of a successful hunt in Britain, but a fork-tailed little weed pestilence that sticks to animal fur and people’s socks. The end of our drought is surely here, as the foxtail weed is flourishing throughout the Valley. It looks a bit like that oat symbol they display on bags of bread at the supermarket. The grass head waving atop high stalks in a field. Pretty rippling in the wind, from a distance. Green or dried to a faint tan color, it is the seed head of a very successful weed. Successful because it spreads its seed far and wide by breaking off and clinging to passing animals, there to be dispersed to new fields far away. More foxtails. Conquer the world. Deadly to our pets. Call in the Superheroes! That’s you and me, pet owners.


Although its goals may appear modest, the foxtail weed is trying to take over the world. Yup, yup. Your dog trots across the meadow. The foxtail attaches to his paws, burrowing in between toes and tunneling up his leg. Your dog stops to sniff the flowers (or an interesting doggie scent), when a foxtail works inside her eyelids or falls into her ear canal. The hunter snorts one up his nose.  Some dogs develop a taste for foxtails and attempt to graze upon them. This is a real disaster, as the weed heads embed in the crevices between teeth, stick in the tonsils at the back of the throat, or are swallowed. They do not digest, but may actually pierce the intestinal wall and travel around the abdomen. A serious infection ensues, often death.


How do you know they’re there? The foxtail is a “foreign body”. In Latin it was called “corpus alienum”  – Alien! Invading your body! Fight back! The body has built-in defense mechanisms to stay healthy. It will try to dissolve it. Doesn’t work. It will try to reject it. A pool of white cells throw themselves into the job, forming a pocket of pus around the offending object. Sometimes this helps to suspend the foxtail and make it easier to find and remove. Sometimes the foxtail burrows deeper into the soft tissue. Picture in your mind the tiny foxtail inserted into a pound of hamburger (instead of flesh). Talk about finding a needle in a haystack!


Calling all Super heroes! Superman!


How to know the Foxtail Invasion has begun? Limping with a red swelling between the toes. A closed, puffy eye. Your dog shaking his head like a mad man or she is sneezing so hard your dog’s nose almost hits the ground. Faster than a speeding bullet you call your veterinarian to make an investigative appointment.  During the office visit your veterinarian will examine your pet. If your dog does not want to hold still while we try to fit an otoscope into an ear already crowded with foxtails and your dog protests “more powerful than a locomotive” and appears to be “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” then your veterinarian will recommend anesthesia to successfully probe and remove the offending foxtail. As they look, many a vet has muttered “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no …. It’s Super foxtail!” (well, maybe not).


Most of the time the Good Guys win. Most of the time we find the foxtails and remove them. You, the Superhero Pet Owner, can go home and use a weed whacker to take down those back corner-of-the-yard weeds. Walk your pet on paved pathways, not empty lots filled with weeds. Brush your pet after every walk, paying special attention to the feet and face. Discuss a Summer Strip haircut with your Groomer to remove thick fur (foxtail traps).  As a Superhero you are fighting the good fight… “The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way!” Not to mention you and your dog will enjoy a foxtail-free GREAT summer!


Christine B. McFadden, DVM

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