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Watching Out for those Pesky Foxtails

So pleasant, isn’t it, the current season in SF. The topsy-turvy years of seemingly unending drought followed by seemingly nonstop rain created lush green grasses and weeds throughout The City and the fields and hillsides of favorite walking locations like never before. Now that the sun is shining relentlessly and regularly, one of dog’s natural enemies has come out in force—the foxtail grass. These bad boys are everywhere in SF’s nature parks like the Presidio and are causing problems for human and hound alike. Local vets concur it is important to take seriously the threat of this dastardly menace.

Dry, sunny days begin the process of dropping the seed casings commonly referred to as the foxtail. Most often, foxtails, burs, and weeds get stuck in the shaggy coats of the longer-haired dog as well as in curly-haired coats, even when cut short. These guys can cause serious injury. The awn of the foxtail, the hardened tip encasing the seed, has near-microscopic barbs that lodge into whatever it finds and clings tightly to it, working its way inward. Our four-legged friends can get foxtails lodged in their paws, eyelids, ears, armpits, mouths/tongues/throats, and noses in addition to their coats. The foxtails can attach themselves like Velcro and then move inward, unable to back out because of the barbs, and potentially pierce through the skin. They can infect the poor pooch with bacteria that live inside their nasty barbed tip.

Humans can work on better preventing foxtail injuries in dogs. First, insist that your pooches stay out of the grass, keep your dog well groomed, and always do a quick once-over after a walk near foxtails. If your dog has long and especially curly hair that collects all the foxtails, burs, weeds, and whatnot out there, go with a short trim until the foxtails clear out, and consider a poodle trim around the paws, because foxtail injuries between the toes are the most common and are hard to spot. Groomers are likely slammed now for summer cuts. Check your dog thoroughly from nose to tail after visiting areas with tall grass weeds, and if you have a curly-haired or shaggy dog, check him or her again each night, too. You don’t want to miss anything; going through your dog’s fur regularly is enough to prevent most foxtail issues, though beware the freak foxtail up the dog’s nose or in his eye.

Signs your pooch may give you that a foxtail is causing big problems are a bloody nose or lots of sneezing all of a sudden, incessant pawing at the ear, chewing on a paw pad or other spot, leaky eyes, and lots of whimpering and whining, especially when the affected area is touched. If you think there’s a problem, check with your hands and eyes—look down the nostrils, check the eyelids, peer down the ear holes, scope out the mouth and throat, check between the paw pads, run your hands through the hair to pull out any unlodged foxtail. Veterinary attention may be required.

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed, foolproof way to completely safeguard against the foxtails while enjoying the natural area it proliferates. Try sticking to the pathways, and check your dog over each day and often. And be happy when foxtail season ends.

Erik “The Law” Rodgers” is the manager of Citizen Hound SF. He was a senior paralegal for seven years who left his office job after he saw an online add for Citizen Hound SF needing help that said, “If you hate your job, quit.’ He did. And the rest is history, with Rodgers serving as the right-hand man for David Levin, the Citizen Hound SF founder.

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Main article photo by: Forest and Kim Starr-Creative Commons