If you live in California, you're probably familiar with foxtails. These wild grasses are particularly prevalent here in CA and they're not just unsightly, they can actually cause your dog pain! Foxtail season in California is in full bloom. Let's talk about how to protect your dog from nature's grassiest nuisances.
What Are Foxtails?
Foxtails come from a common type of grass awn. The grass generally grows during spring with fuzzy, barb-like heads falling off its stalks once the weather turns dry. These barbs are actually the "foxtails," which can blow for miles in a strong breeze. Because foxtails have long bristles and pointy ends, they can easily penetrate skin.
What Problems Do Foxtails Cause?
The body has a particularly difficult time breaking down plant material, so undetected foxtails can stay embedded in your dog's skin for a long time. That makes them prone to infection. Foxtails have been known to travel deep within dogs' skin and nasal passages causing problems for weeks and even months after the season has ended. Once they've migrated, foxtails are incredibly difficult to detect.
The pads of your dog's feet - particularly in between his toes - is the part of his body most susceptible to foxtails because he's likely to step on them. Any orifices on his body like his nose, mouth, and ears can also trap blowing foxtails. These can be especially hard to find.
Does your dog have a foxtail problem?
How Can You Protect Your Dog from Foxtails?
Tip #1: Steer Clear of Foxtails!
The best way to protect your dog from the painful problems associated with foxtails is to keep them away from foxtails in the first place. That means avoiding natural areas where foxtails grow, particularly if the weather has been very warm and dry. You shouldn't let your dog romp around in any tall grass. Remember, though, that even staying away from foxtails isn't necessarily foolproof since foxtails can be blown long distances in the wind.
Tip #2: Check Your Dog Regularly
You always check your dog for ticks when you come in from the woods; you should also be checking him for foxtails after every summertime walk. Look between his toes, inside his nose and ears, and also through his fur. (You'll want to use a fine-toothed comb if your dog has long fur.) If you find a foxtail, remove and discard it immediately.
Tip #3: Invest in a Mesh Head Cover
If your dog is particularly willing to play along with your shenanigans, consider a mesh head covering specifically designed to prevent him from inhaling or ingesting foxtails. Fitting snuggly over your dog's head, these covers are totally breathable and easy to get on and off. Remember that they don't protect against all foxtails, just the ones that might come into contact with your dog's head and face.
Tip #4: Get Some Dog Booties
Shoes for dogs aren't just adorable, they can actually be really functional! Choose booties with hard or rubbery soles to protect your dog's feet against foxtails - if the fabric on the shoes is penetrable, they won't be as effective. If your dog has never worn foot coverings before, get him used to them indoors first by offering treats when he's willing to walk (waddle?) to you while wearing his booties.
How can you tell if your dog's got a foxtail problem? The signs of a foxtail-related issue depend on where exactly the barb has penetrated. In the skin, foxtails can lead to infection, pain, discharge, and limping. In the nasal passages, they can cause bloody noses and respiratory distress. Foxtails in the ears can cause your dog to shake or scratch his head constantly. If you think your dog might have a foxtail problem, reach out to your vet immediately. The sooner you detect and treat an issue caused by this pervasive grass, the less serious the effects will be!