I remember when I first drove cross country on my move to California and admired the seemingly endless fields of what I thought was wheat blowing in the breeze along the highway. How beautiful it looked! How innocent! It wasn’t until I had lived here for several months that I learned the truth about these evil grass lawns commonly referred to as foxtails.
It’s hard to believe the damage these innocent weeds can wreak. They start out innocuous enough and when they are green they actually are a nice looking plant. As they get dryer though, they get more dangerous. The head of the plant consists of small v- shaped barbs. The shape ensures that the dried barb moves forward and can’t back out. So when the dried barbs catch on fur they are only going forward, moving their way in. You’ve probably experienced this when you walked through a field and had these sharp weeds catch in your socks. Imagine you’re a dog and instead of socks, these sharp pointy weeds are going up your nose, into the skin between your toes or down an ear canal. That’s where they get deadly.
Foxtails can travel inside the animal’s body and damage inner organs. Or cause abscesses as they try to emerge through the skin. How do you know if your pet has a foxtail? If it’s in a paw they will be constantly licking the area. If one got up their nose you will hear frequent sneezing, sometimes with blood. When a foxtail gets in the ear the animal head shakes a lot and scratches at their ear. Sometimes there is a head tilt. Cats seem to have a bigger issue with foxtails getting in their eyes and they often lose the eye because of it. Any of these symptoms should be cause for a trip to your vet or an emergency hospital. You definitely want to have any imbedded foxtail removed before it gets inside to do more damage.
It’s so much easier, not to mention cheaper, to catch the foxtails before they get imbedded and start to cause harm. This means doing a thorough brushing and toe search after any possible exposure. You’ll want to look for ticks too so it’s doubly important to check your pet over for foxtails. It’s especially difficult if you have a thick coated black dog! You can also bathe or just wet down your dog which softens the barbs and prevents them from traveling.
They make a mesh mask (like a bag) that goes over the dog’s head and prevents foxtails from going up the nose or into the ears similar to a fly that is used on horses. They take some getting used to and since they cover the whole head (including the mouth) the dog can’t drink or retrieve a ball while it is on. So it is useful for hikes but would need to come off periodically for water breaks.
Of course keeping pets out of areas that have foxtails (all fields - try to keep your dog on the paths when hiking) would eliminate the problem. But foxtails are everywhere including dog parks and back yards. Take a few minutes and look around your yard to make sure your pets area is safe and foxtail free. If you go to any dog parks, do your share and spend a few minutes pulling these weeds. If everyone would do this then all our pets would be safer! Looks can be so deceiving – nature looks so pretty until you really see the dangers it hides.
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri-Sat 1-5:30; Sun 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.