Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foxtails: not as benign as you might think

A jaunt with your pooch out in the woods can be a great way to get exercise and spend time together. Most dogs like to dart off into the brush, sniffing as they meander around. Typical dog behavior, right? Of course!

flickr photo courtesy of The Equinest
It's important when fun time is over, to examine your pooch thoroughly. Looking for ticks is crucial, of course, but there is another caveat to outdoor fun, especially for long haired dogs, like golden retrievers. Foxtails are notorious for hitching a ride and embedding themselves easily into tangles of fur, but they can pose a bigger risk: digging into openings in the skin. If this happens, big problems can ensue and surgical removal may become necessary.

Three common places that foxtails enter the body are the ears, nose and paws, so if your pooch spends a lot of time outdoors in fields or brushy areas, examining these areas is very important.

  • Paws: Keep the fur trimmed on the underside of the paws and check frequently. Limping may be an indicator that there's an issue.
  • Nose:  Dogs are habitual sniffers! Any signs of sneezing, pawing, discharge from the nose or blood is cause for concern. The burr can make its way to further into the nasal cavity, and in some rare cases has done so into the brain.
  • Ears: You know how dogs are; they get in irritation in their ear and they shake their head. But with every shake, the foxtail burr can travel further into the ear and cause permanent damage.
Most of the burrs can be removed safely with a comb after returning home. But in cases where you see that one may have gotten under the skin, or you're unable to remove it, get to a veterinarian immediately for treatment. Infection can set in quickly, and the discomfort and pain caused by the tiny barbs is awful.

Lorrie Shaw is a professional pet sitter and dog walker as well as a regular pets contributor on She also enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets. She can be reached via e-mail.

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