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What are foxtails and why are they dangerous?

Hi Dr. Barchas, In your most recent column, you mentioned foxtails. I have heard of these, but I don't know what they are. What are...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jun 16th 2006


Vet Explains Foxtails

Hi Dr. Barchas,

In your most recent column, you mentioned foxtails. I have heard of these, but I don’t know what they are. What are they, and what’s the big deal?

Janine
Fairfield, CA

Foxtails are a type of plant sticker. They are produced by grasses that are allowed to grow and go to seed. They are arrow shaped and have a sharp end that can penetrate a pet’s skin. If you have ever walked through a field of weeds and wound up with a number of stickers in your socks, most of them probably were foxtails.

Anywhere that grassy weeds grow, foxtails pose a risk to pets. And they can be a serious threat. Foxtails get caught in pets’ hair. From there, they can move into the skin. Foxtails have barbs that make it possible for them to travel only in one direction, so they gradually work their way further and further into the pet’s skin, causing a painful sore that must be treated by a veterinarian. If left untreated, a chronic infection can result.

As well, foxtails can become embedded in pets’ ears, eyes, and nose. In the worst cases if left untreated, foxtails can travel through the body to the heart or lungs, causing pneumonia or even death.

There are several steps you can take to protect your pet from foxtails. First, avoid unmaintained grass fields and areas with weeds. Large numbers of foxtails may be present in these areas. If your pet has long hair, you can trim it (as discussed in the previous column) to reduce its attractiveness to foxtails. And finally, check your pet after each walk. If you find and remove foxtails in the hair before they have made their way into the skin, you can save yourself a trip to the vet.