Foxtails and The Extreme Danger to Your Dog
While it is under unfortunate circumstances that I am writing this, it’s critical information that you need to know in regards to caring for your dog: foxtails.
The first and proper reaction to reading the word “foxtails” is to google it and I cannot encourage that enough (see Photo 1). On July 15, my best friend sent me a photo of her dogs paw (see Photo 2) with the message of, “she won’t stop licking it, but everything else is fine”. Roo is her two year old rescue dog who unfortunately was the victim of a foxtail embedding its way into her body via her paw; she was only displaying one symptom at the time of the photo being sent, which was excessive licking, however things progressed for the worse, quickly. On the evening of the 15th, Roo’s owner took her to the local ER vet after initially finding the lump in her paw and then noticing an swelling difference (see Photo 3) where it was determined that Roo would need to be sedated, cut open, and searched in order to hopefully remove the foxtail. There are some cases where the foxtail cannot be located and the vet will need to wait for another lump to form in order to better assess the location of the foxtail. Luckily for Roo, they were able to find it and remove it.
Foxtails are common in Utah, as well as other places, so my general rule of thumb is that if the plant has some sort of spinal hair that “sticks” to your fingers when you rub it the opposite direction of growth…you have a problem, aka, check your dog’s body, ears, and paws thoroughly. Roo suffered a foxtail embed from her own backyard and even today while out with my dogs at a reservoir, I spent fifteen minutes plucking them out of my long-haired border collie mix’s body. They can infiltrate your dog’s fur very easily.
So here are the signs/symptoms that you as a dog owner need to be aware of, because let’s face it, between our dogs and us, we do not always catch little things like this until it’s escalated. Mind you, foxtails are very sneaky and can go unnoticed before it’s time to take more serious action.
Signs that a foxtail is in your dog’s EAR:
Excessive head shaking
Pawing at their ears/face
Whimpering and pulling away when you attempt to touch their head
A head tilt
Redness or discharge coming from their ear
Signs that a foxtail is in your dog’s PAW:
Limping or excessive licking of paw
swelling of paw OR soft, swollen lump between the toes (warning: this lump may rupture and ooze puss)
Signs that a foxtail is in your dog’s NOSE:
Sudden onset of bad breath
Discharge from nose (may or may not show signs of blood)
Signs that a foxtail is in your dog’s eye:
Pawing at eye or dragging eye along carpet or furniture
Signs that a foxtail is in your dog’s genitalia:
Excessive licking of genitals
Blood present in urine
Signs that the foxtail injury is infected:
Lack of appetite
Rancid smell coming from identifiable wound
It is crucial to pay attention to the above described areas however they could be found anywhere on your dog. What I usually do with my long-haired border collie is that a rub his fur in all different directions, pulling areas apart, more or less scratching him at the base of his coat, and feeling for anything that feels abnormal. Just shaking your dog’s fur will not remove the foxtails if they’ve made their way past just simply being present on the surface of the fur; they very easily move beneath that superficial level and before attaching, can be just as hard to locate.
While there is no 100% preventable way to keep your dog safe, there are safety measures that you can take in order to help mitigate the probability; with our technology nowadays, there are different types of bodily protection available to your dog ranging from paw booties to face guards.
Luckily for Roo, her vets were able to help her and get her on the road to recovery. She went home with antibiotics, pain meds, and the cone of shame. Within twelve hours of the procedure, she was able to put pressure on her paw again while the cone prevented her from licking the recovering site. Overall, Roo is lucky. Foxtails ultimately travel further through a dog’s body to either their brain, heart or lungs, and once reached, it becomes fatal for the dog. While there is no guideline in regards to how fast a foxtail can travel or how much time an owner has to get their dog to the vet, it is extremely important to take your dog into the vet as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms.
Just like ticks, make sure you check your dog after any outdoor activity that may have caused them to be potentially exposed to harmful, natural occurrences.