Foxtails and Other Plants That Can Harm Your Pet

Foxtails and Other Plants That Can Harm Your Pet

Green foxtailAs the weather warms, oftentimes the attention of concerned pet owners is on springtime dangers like venomous snakes and disease carrying parasites. But, one hidden danger may come as a surprise, and that is foxtails.

What Are Foxtails?

Foxtails are a common plant most recognize by their bushy ends that resemble fox tails. While not all of these grasses are dangerous, one genus in particular poses health risks to pets, and that is hordeum.

Grasses within this genus are often referred to as foxtails, brome grasses, wild barley, or aptly named spear or needle grass.

Foxtails and other bromes contain clusters of spikelets or barbs that detach when the plant dries. While this is necessary for the plant to propagate, it poses some serious health risks to dogs or cats wandering through these grasses.

Why Are They Dangerous?

From all appearances, foxtails seem like a fairly innocuous outdoor risk. However, awns or barbs can embed in skin and soft tissues and create a dangerous potential for infection, abscess, and surgical removal.

Foxtails can enter ear canals, nasal passages, throat, genitals, and under the eyelids. Because of the structure of foxtails or awns, any movement or attempt to dislodge them by a pet can simply result in the awns digging deeper into the skin or soft tissue.

Once an awn has embedded itself, it will continue to burrow and can create an emergency situation. Deeply embedded awns will require surgery.

Symptoms of an embedded foxtail include:

  • Persistent licking or biting paws or skin
  • Rubbing ears and head – shaking head
  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Squinting, discharge, and/or swelling around the eye
  • Frequent sneezing

If these awns are not removed, your pet may be at serious risk of infection and abscess. Because these risks are potentially life-threatening, do not wait to have your pet examined if you suspect an embedded awn or awns, or if your pet is exhibiting the aforementioned symptoms.

Tips to Avoid Foxtails and Other Awn-Bearing Plants

The safest approach to these barbed grasses from causing injury to a pet is to avoid them altogether when outdoors with your four-legged friend.

Other steps you can take:

  • Be cautious near meadows, rural roadsides, and ditches where foxtails are commonly found
  • Keep your yard free from awn-bearing weeds and grasses by pulling the entire plant out by the roots and immediately placing them in a container or bag for disposal
  • Inspect your pet at the end of each day, looking between toes, in the ears, and in thick fur, where awns can hide
  • Monthly grooming can be helpful since your groomer will also inspect your pet’s skin, coat, ears, and paws (and well-trimmed hair makes it harder for the awns to go unnoticed)

Although spending time outdoors with a pet is wonderful (and cooler) this time of year, take extra precautions to avoid a potentially dangerous encounter with foxtails and their barbed relatives.

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