Just when we were getting a handle on ticks, foxtail season is upon us. My fluffy Akita-mix used to get these little nasties in her sides. Despite frequent body searches, about once a year I would find an open “hole” in her. Another trip to the vet would ensue, the alligator tweezers would make their (usually unproductive) search, and she would go on a round of antibiotics.
The problem pods grow as cute little grass seedheads. They are a feature of several species of native and invasive grasses common to Northern California. Once they mature, loosen from the stalk, and snag in fur, the sharp, hard point can break the skin and leave an open, draining tract that follows their wandering path from one side of a dog to the other. Needless to say, this is serious health threat, especially if the foxtail digs through organs or nervous system.
Shorter-haired dogs may not get fur-snagged foxtails, but ingested or inhaled seeds are even worse. Dogs that snuffle the ground are vulnerable to getting a foxtail in the nose. Ears are also common lodging spots. When one of my dogs was sneezing violently during a walk, I was able to spot and just tweezer-grab the tail of a descending foxtail from her bleeding nostril.
Pulling out visible tails is about all you can do for foxtails in the field and home. The vet has tweezers-on-a-stick that can follow a foxtail tract for about 8" but it's a shot in the dark. Antibiotics are a stopgap while you wait and hope that the pod eventually comes out the other side. As usual, prevention is the best medicine.
Keep undercoat brushed out with a rake. Be neurotic about removing this extra-fluffy soft underfur-- it's like foxtail magnets.
A fur-slicking spray like Show-Sheen (for horses) can prevent some seeds from sticking, as well as making removal easier. Dilute with water about 1:4. Dry coats with split ends have more "velcro" effect. Keep your dog's coat well-conditioned and slick by feeding lots of salmon oil.
Foxtail guards will keep the seeds out of a dog's nose and ears, and from being swallowed. Although they look kind of dopey, they work great. Also good for dogs who eat rocks, acorns, poop, etc. They can still drink, pant, pick up toys, etc through the soft mesh.
After grassy walks, check your dog’s ears, nose, genitals, under collars, and between toes. If medium- or long-haired, go over the dog with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. Don’t dismiss persist head-shaking, sneezing, coughing, scratching or licking. Some dog owners try to stay away from areas with known foxtails from May-Nov. Like most medical emergencies, the sooner you can identify and address the problem, the better the survival rate and smaller the expense.