It was a fairly routine procedure at the veterinary clinic, a dental cleaning I think, and my dog had to be sedated. She was healthy and there was no reason to worry. When I went to pick her up, there was something handed to me along with the bill, and I had to look at it closely to see what it was.
On a piece of paper, about four inches by three inches, there were five small items taped down. They were everyday, run of the mill, things I see every day that I have ever lived anywhere with a grassy terrain.
They were the dreaded FOXTAILS (cue dramatic music). While my pup was under anesthesia, the vet and staff had gone over her furry form and found five of them getting ready to do their damage.
No words were spoken, no accusations made, but the message was clear: as far as inspecting my dog after grassy romps, I had to step up my game. These innocuous looking seed pods could have caused some pretty serious problems for my pooch!
What are foxtails? Wikipedia explains them in this way: “A foxtail is a spikelet or cluster of a grass, that serves to disperse its seeds as a unit. Thus, the foxtail is a type of diaspore or plant dispersal unit.” No big deal, right? Except that these particular spikelets have tiny stiff fibers that lean toward their tops. When the pointed bottom end of the pod pierces flesh, the pod can only move forward, further into the tissue, because the fibers won’t bend backward. Imagine what happens when one of those little buggers gets between some fuzzy toes, or into the canal of a floppy ear, or even – perish the thought! – into the corner of an eye, before a vigilant dog mom or dad can get it out. In extreme cases, foxtails have been known to bury themselves completely inside a dog and migrate through his body, causing pain and tissue damage with no outward sign of what’s wrong.
If you live in a place where there are lots of grassy areas, you probably already know how ubiquitous foxtails are. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to keep them at bay. You don’t have to give up walks on grassy trails! Just be sure to have a close look at your dog when you get home. Check between her toes, in her ears, anywhere a little plant spear might be hiding. Longer and fuller haired dogs require a little more time and effort, but isn’t it worth it to keep your buddy happy and healthy?
Foxtails and other kinds of small seed pods can hide well, and even the most diligent inspection may miss them now and then. Watch your pet for signs that one may have been missed. If your dog is shaking his head, have a look in his ears. Licking a paw? Have another look in between those toes and around the pads. Sneezing a lot? There may be something in her nose. If you’re unable to find anything, but your pet is still indicating something is going on, it’s definitely time to consult with your veterinarian.
My dog was fine after her dental cleaning, and thanks to the vet and his staff, no foxtails got where they shouldn’t get. But I learned my lesson!