- Rachel Doran
A Warning for Pet Owners About Foxtails
As pet owners there are special precautions that have to be made to keep our four-legged friends safe from potential dangers. When outdoors, we are on alert for things like cars, ticks, and other animals but less aware of the possible plant dangers. Foxtails are one of those plants that, while not toxic, are hazardous to pets. As Arizonans, we are no strangers to these fast-growing weeds that flourish across the entire western United States. But as pet owners, it is very important that we understand their unique dangers to our cats and dogs.
Foxtails are weeds and like all weeds, they typically grow in wide open spaces - hiking trails, large fields or anywhere that weeds are free to propagate. They are relatively easy to identify because they have a distinct spiney brush type head. There are several varieties that grow in the western United States, but they all share the brush-like seed clusters making them easy to spot.
Foxtails are able to grow so fast and efficiently because they possess a very successful seed delivery system. The seed clusters are surrounded by tiny spines that are sharp and are meant to help them borrow deep into the ground. However, sometimes these seed clusters don’t end up where they are meant to. Sometimes their final resting place is on our pets. Some common places foxtail seeds can end up that are particularly dangerous for our cats and dogs are their nose, eye, genitals, mouth, paws, and ears.
Whenever your pets have access to areas where foxtails may grow, it is important to look out for some common signs and symptoms that they may have been exposed; symptoms of foxtail injuries can be easy to spot. Typically you want to look for irritation in any of the potential areas where the seeds might become lodged. For example, if your pet had a foxtail cluster in their ear they may: pull away if you try to touch their ear, continually rub or scratch their ear, tilt or shake their head to try to dislodge it from their ear.
While it is easy to think of this danger as exclusive to dogs, that would be an inaccurate assumption. Cats who are exclusively outdoor or even just cats who run off every now and again are at risk for any of these injuries as well. Cats are hunters and like to crouch in high grass making them at a particularly high risk for collecting dozens of foxtail seed clusters.
It is very important to note that these pesky seeds are not just a frustration; they can prove very dangerous. Due to their spiny nature, they will continue to dig into your pet as they move, aggravating the site and possible causing infection. Once your pet has gotten an infection, they need to go to their vet immediately. Signs of infection include: sudden decrease in energy level, reluctance to eat, muscle weakness and/or stiffness, vomiting and swelling and/or discharge at the site. There have even been cases of foxtails getting embedded in the lungs or brain after entering through the ears or mouth so please take precautions.
If you find that your pet does have a foxtail seed cluster on them you will need to remove it promptly. Removal of the spiky little tagalongs is the same regardless of where on the body they have attached themselves. If you can easily see the foxtail, remove it with a pair of tweezers being sure to remove all the little spines. If the surrounding area is red and swollen or you cannot get to it in its entirety, see your vet immediately for assistance.
There are ways to minimize your pet’s risk of foxtail injuries. First and most importantly, be prepared! Know what they are, where they grow and how to spot them. (You’re 1 for 1 just by reading this blog!) Second, if they are in your yard, you can treat them with spot treatments to remove them and keep them from growing. There are several products on the market that can do the job effectively. Third, you can keep your pet’s fur trimmed shorter in the summer, when these plants are at their peak, to lower the chances of them being able to stick to the fur. And finally, you can make sure you check your pet after every possible exposure, just as you would with ticks.
Foxtails can be harmful to pets, but the greatest offense is always a good defense. Be cautious when walking through large overgrown areas and be sure to check your pets for any seed clusters when returning home. As pet owners, we know our pets better than anyone so if you suspect your pet is behaving differently and may have a foxtail lodged somewhere internally seek medical help immediately. Getting out and enjoying the weather is one of the best parts of living in this great state. Don’t let foxtails steal that pleasure; equip yourself with knowledge and get out and live your best life.