Dr. Hilary Quinn: Foxtail Season Is Nothing to Sneeze at for Dogs | Four-Legged Friends and More

It’s that time of the year again. Dads and grads gift cards on the shelves, gardening and outdoor furniture on display in Costco, the smell of barbeques being fired up for the season.

But this time of year is better known to veterinarians as Foxtail Season.


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Local veterinarian Dr. Hilary Quinn will be writing a regular column for Noozhawk.

In case you aren’t familiar with foxtails, they are the small, bristly awns that grow from weed-like grasses in our area. They are called foxtails because they look like the fluffy tails of our beloved small wild canine friends.

But foxtails are a friend to no one.

As they dry from bright green to a dull, brittle yellow, they begin their search for a place to attach and take seed. This may be your socks, or a poorly-placed picnic basket, but just as frequently they are swiftly sucked into your dog’s nostril, or wend their way into an ear canal or wedge between two fuzzy toes.

When a foxtail enters your dog’s nostril, he will begin sneezing explosively, and you may see him pawing at his muzzle. If left untreated, your dog’s sneezing may subsidize somewhat, but that doesn’t mean the foxtail is gone.

I usually recommend a sedated deep nasal exam for any dog ​​that experiences acute-onset explosive sneezing (usually when outside on a walk, or in the yard).

Every once in a great while, if the foxtail has migrated so far back into the nose that I can no longer find it, I will refer to our local specialist who can retrieve it using a specialized scope.

When a foxtail clings to the hair between your pup’s toes, it may take days or weeks to wiggle its way into the skin. From there, it forms an abscess which is swollen, red, and often has a small draining tract.

Your dog will begin licking compulsively, which is when you pick up the phone and dial your trusty local vet. We will do our very best to probe the abscess and remove the offending foxtail.

Antibiotics are usually needed as well, since the site is often infected with bacteria carried by the foxtails.

In addition to nostrils, ears, eyes, and toes, foxtails may also enter the skin and migrate over time into internal organs or body cavities.

The infections that form deep in the body will lead to a myriad of other symptoms depending on the location of infection. Fortunately this is rare, even in the height of foxtail season.

While foxtails are unfortunately part of our landscape, the good news is that foxtail infestations can be (mostly) prevented:

» Don’t allow your dog to walk through dry grass or sniff along sidewalks where foxtails are growing.

» Check pup’s feet daily to make sure nothing is lodged between the toes.

» For dogs with long hair, brush daily or examine closely to make sure no awns are clinging near the skin, where they can begin their troublesome burrowing.

» If you and your dog live in areas where foxtails are unavoidable, and you find yourself at your vet’s office too often during the summer having them retrieved from Buddy’s nostrils, ears, or eyes, you can invest in a net hood (such as Outfox , or other generic brands sold online). They may look funny but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.

So, as your plan your summertime camping trips, or sunset walks along the bluffs, remember that those meddlesome plants are also planning their big trip.

Your local vet will thank you for a little extra care in keeping your dog safe.

Dr. Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates Wilder Animal Hospital, and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two kids) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitty, two fish, and six chickens. Contact her at [email protected]

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