I admit I cringed when I was asked to write a blog. Writing for me can be a joy, but only if I am inspired. Inspiration does not come on demand. I was fairly confident it would not be visiting me too often, then, I thought of foxtails. Suddenly, the idea of a blog did not seem such drudgery after all.
Recently, foxtails have become the subject of intense interest for us. These only started appearing as an issue in our practice 2 years ago. I remember learning about foxtails in veterinary school 22 years ago. At that time, foxtails were very common in California, where dogs would frequently develop abscesses secondary to the small grass awns which get caught into the pet’s fur and then burrowed into their skin. Having practiced in Virginia, and now Maryland, I never expected to see this disease. Then suddenly, a few years ago, we began to see dogs with mysterious abscesses on their feet and found the grass awns within the wounds.
What has changed? I did some research on the internet, and discovered that foxtail is a common name for several grasses which produce a “spikelet or spikelet cluster to disperse its seeds”. These seeds are soft in the spring, but when the seeds mature, they become harder and sharper, which explains the sudden explosion of cases we have seen this fall. But what it does not explain is why we are now seeing them in this area.
I wonder if landscapers might be using these perennial grasses more frequently in recent years. While I found many posts regarding foxtails from California veterinarians, according to the USDA, these plants are found throughout the US, except in the gulf coast states. Horbeum jubatum, foxtail barley, is considered a weed, which does not fit my theory that they are the hot new trend in landscaping.
If planting foxtails are a conscious choice of homeowners, a public relations campaign directed at informing owners of the risks of their choice might resolve the problem. However, if they are ubiquitous, then educating pet owners about the plant and its hazards is the better route. Either way, word needs to get out to the public.
I discovered four recommendations for prevention among the contributors to the Veterinary Information Network:
- Keep your lawn trimmed.
- Keep pets out of areas with foxtails.
- Inspect your pet’s body, feet, face and ears daily if they have been roaming outside.
- Keep their fur trimmed short. – This one makes a lot of sense to me, especially since I feel that the long-haired dogs have been overrepresented among the cases we have seen.
I also found a link to an interesting product called Outfox (www.outfoxfordogs.com). I have had no experience with this product, but it looks like it is worth trying.
In terms of treatment of the pets, we will usually begin with antibiotics and try to find and remove the foxtail if we can. This can prove to be a challenge. Many cases develop lesions on their feet, but foxtails can penetrate the skin anywhere on the body and migrate a remarkable distance. The latter quality makes them dangerous.
If you suspect your dog has a foxtail wound, please call our office to arrange an appointment so we can address the problem promptly.
Dr. Patricia Ainsworth, DVM