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Is a Foxtail in My Dog's Nose Making Him Sneeze?

Foxtails are public enemy No. 1 for dogs in California. Here's how the barbed seeds can make a dog's life miserable.

 |  Oct 2nd 2012  |   3 Contributions


Here's a question I recently received:

I went camping with my Chihuahua in Bodega Bay six weeks ago. I noticed some thorns on the nose. I have taken the dog to a vet in Santa Fe and NYC because he violently shakes his head, sneezes, and hits his nose on ground maybe one to three times daily. He has no discharge from nose and he has taken antibiotics, steroids, and allergy pills. Is it possible the foxglove plant lodged something into his nasal passage?

Thanks for your input,

Bob

I am guessing that you meant to say foxtail rather than foxglove. The two sound similar, and I wouldn't expect someone who's not from California (or any other prime foxtail area) to know the difference. Foxglove is a poisonous plant that can cause heart problems when it's eaten. It's not common around coastal California (which includes Bodega Bay). It does not cause sneezing.

Foxtails, on the other hand, are very common throughout California. They are a group of grasses that produce arrow-shaped seeds (called grass awns, or foxtails). They generally aren't poisonous, but they are extremely dangerous for dogs. The seeds are sharp and barbed; they become embedded in tissues, and they tend to migrate in a forward fashion, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Foxtails are public enemy No. 1 for dogs that live in or visit California.

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Foxtails by Shutterstock.com.

Frequent spots where foxtails cause problems include the skin, the ears, the eyes, the nose, and the genitals.

Foxtails may enter the skin anywhere, but they most commonly are found in the feet, especially on the dorsal (top) aspect of the foot between the toes. Initially they cause discomfort as they poke into the skin. Over time, they migrate and disappear into the skin, causing a chronic draining sore. Dogs with foxtails in the skin usually lick the affected area. Blood or clear fluid may emanate from the area. The area may be red, blistered, malodorous, and painful. Foxtails in the feet often cause limping.

Foxtails in the ear tend to cause head shaking and pain in the affected ear (for instance, your dog may not want you to touch his ear). In the long term, they can cause ear infections and ruptured eardrums.

Foxtails in the eye cause severe pain, manifested by strong squinting. There may be discharge from the eye, and the tissues surrounding the eye usually become swollen. Foxtails can cause severe corneal ulcers (a type of eye trauma that is painful and can lead to further complications).

As for foxtails in the genitals, how could such a thing happen? Dogs that lift their legs or squat directly on a foxtail plant put their most private parts in harm's way. Extreme discomfort and infections can result.

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Dog's nose by Shutterstock.com.

Now let's talk about nasal foxtails. They are common, and they occur when dogs decide to see what foxtails smell like or if they run through seeded grass that is nose high. They cause violent sneezing, reverse sneezing, and nasal irritation. In the long term, they can lead to sinus infections and other, more serious complications.

Since I practice in California, any dog with sudden sneezing is always considered to be at high risk of having a nasal foxtail -- especially if plant matter was seen around the nose prior to the onset of symptoms. However, a vet in New Mexico or New York may not always have foxtails on the mind.

Regardless of a foxtail's location, the best treatment is always to remove it. Nasal foxtails generally can be removed only with deep sedation or general anesthesia, since the nose is one of the most sensitive sites on a dog's body.

If your dog's symptoms are ongoing, talk to your vet about the possibility of a nasal foxtail. Removing nasal foxtails can be tricky, so you may have to look around for a vet who has experience with the matter.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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