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Fending off Foxtails, Fleas, Fears and Fights

Summer is here in the Bay Area, and four things come to mind: foxtails, fleas, fears (and phobias), and fights. With the beautiful weather this time of year, people take a little more time to be out and about with their dogs, and we veterinarians see many more problems now than we do the rest of the year.



Foremost, the hills are alive with foxtails everywhere. As dogs get to run off leash in the parks, they inevitably encounter these irritating and potentially expensive parts of nature. After the much-needed rains this year, I see more foxtails than I have in quite sometime. Foxtails are rife on curb strips along streets in well-manicured neighborhoods, too, and will ensnare housedogs that never venture to parks. It is not uncommon for our hospital to field three to five calls daily for dogs having problems with foxtails.

There is almost nowhere on or in a dog that I have not removed foxtails. Most commonly, they are in the ears, nose, eyes, and feet of dogs. For preventing foxtails from getting into those spots, you can purchase netting that covers the head and neck area, sort of a hood. From my experience, I have found that about half the dogs will tolerate these, and the other half tend to pull them off or bite through the netting. For dogs with furry feet, the best thing to do is to have a groomer give the paws a shave-down so they are less likely to trap a foxtail between the toes. It’s important for owners of all dogs to check between their dogs’ toes and foot pads after every summer walk.

Now, what do you do if your dog gets a foxtail? When dogs get a foxtail up their noses, it is usually fairly obvious. The dog usually starts sneezing violently and may have some eye twitching on the side with the foxtail. Sometimes the foxtail will be sneezed out and you may not see it. If this happens, the sneezing should subside over a few minutes. The dog’s mucus secretions in its nose will soften the foxtail and make it less irritating; however, most dogs will continue sneezing if the foxtail remains in their nose. This is when they should see a veterinarian to have it removed, which requires an anesthetic to scope the nose. The longer the foxtail is left in, the harder it may be to locate and remove.

Like foxtails in the nose, foxtails in ears usually cause head shaking. It’s impossible for owners to see these foxtails, because the head shaking drives the foxtail further down the ear canal. Locating them requires an otoscope and removal by a vet. If you are fairly certain your dog has a foxtail in his ear, and you can’t get to the vet to have it removed that day, you can ease your pet’s discomfort by applying some cooking-type oil into the ear canal. The oil will then soften the spikey ends of the foxtail. However: It will still need to be removed.

Foxtail in the eye? Once again, it will be fairly obvious, because your dog will be squinting or holding his eye closed. This should be dealt with ASAP. If you can see the foxtail caught under the eyelid, gently remove it. The only first aid I recommend is the use of an over-the-counter topical eye lubricant applied three to four times daily until you can get to a vet’s office, which should be right away to assess the damage to the corneal surface. If the foxtail is removed immediately, damage is usually limited to a superficial corneal abrasion; however, the situation can be much more serious than this, so waiting will only make the problem and treatment much more difficult. Eyes require immediate attention.

How about those four feet? The most common early sign of a foxtail in the foot is excessive licking at the toes or chewing at the foot-pad area. At this point, the foxtail is usually well into the foot, and there may be swelling near the sight of entry. If the foxtail stays in long enough, it will migrate, cause infection, and usually the dog will be limping and possibly be a little lethargic. Most foxtails in the feet require removal by a vet with either sedation or an anesthetic, followed by a course of antibiotics if infection is present.

We also encounter foxtails in the tonsillar crypts and the back of throat (for those dogs who like to chew on these plants), in their lungs, in the sheath of the penis, inside the vagina, trapped in the skin under matted fur, free-floating in their abdominal cavity, wedged in their spine, and in the gum pockets of teeth. In a nutshell, they can be found anywhere.



Fleas are everywhere. Your dog does not have to go to the park to pick them up. You can bring them home from your own walks outside or from your yard where squirrels and other creatures pass through, dropping off fleas that love to enjoy your dog’s home. Maintain strict flea control with either an oral or topical flea product. If you have a cat, those, too, can be a source of fleas for your dog. There is a new topical product for cats, called Cheristin, which can be purchased from your veterinarian without an examination. It is low-volume and doesn’t have an offending odor.


Fears (and Phobias)

Even though the 4th of July has passed, many areas still have fireworks, and some places experience thunderstorms now. Both can cause high anxiety for many dogs. Zoetis has a new product for noise phobia called Selio. Available by prescription only, it is quite effective and very safe to use. Also, a medication called Trazadone can also work for dogs that fear the groomer or vet. I have my clients give this to their animal one to two hours before coming to the office or the groomer’s, and it really can calm the animal down and is very safe.



There is nothing more emotionally distressing for an owner than having his dog be in a dog fight. Having watched my own small dog being pinned on the ground while being mauled by a much bigger dog, I know firsthand how horrible this is to witness. First, a word of caution: Don’t get bit. Try not to grab your dog by the collar, because you run a big risk of getting bit in the hand or arm. You can suffer major damage; I have treated many dogs rushed to the vet hospital only to have to send the owner to the emergency room for bites. If possible, grab, a rear leg and pull your dog apart. Be aware that your dog will not recognize you and might turn and bite, so release as soon as possible. Use your feet (only if you have shoes on) and body to keep the animals apart, and move your dog away immediately. Check for wounds, and if you see puncture wounds, it is best to get your injured dog to a vet as soon as possible to be further examined. Not all damage done by a dogfight is easily seen, which is why being examined by a professional is recommended after a fight.

Arnold Gutlaizer, D.V.M., is owner of the Broadway Pet Hospital in Oakland. He has lived and practiced in Oakland for over 25 years and still loves his work because of his clients and their pets.

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Main article photo by: Photo by Raita Futo