Foxtails are weeds that can be frequently found in Manitoba. These weeds are seemingly harmless but the seeds, or awns, can pose a significant threat to our pets.
Our pets may come in contact with these when running through bushy areas. They may step on them or catch them as they run by the weeds. When sniffing through the bush, they may lick at or even inhale the awns. Some dogs will willingly eat them. Paws, ears, eyes and noses are common areas for them to catch on.
Dogs tend to be more frequently affected compared to cats likely because they are more likely to excitedly run through or sniff bushy areas. For humans, foxtail awns tend to not cause any problems as our clothing protects us and we don’t get the same joy out of sniffing at bushed and weeds as many dogs do.
The foxtail awns have a hardened tip like an arrowhead. Along the sides are reverse barbs, similar to a fishhook. This allows the foxtail awn to penetrate skin or other tissue and move in a forward direction but is much more difficult to move in reverse. For this reason, foxtail awns are able to migrate through skin, fat, or muscle causing further pain and making them more difficult to find. It is possible for foxtails to migrate from the nose or paws to the chest, causing pain along the way.
Signs of a foxtail generally begin with pain or discomfort and your pet may seem depressed. They may be licking at a specific area or be sensitive to touch. If it is in their mouth, they may be less interested in food or stop eating altogether, they may bark less frequently or you may notice them making a gagging sound. If a foxtail is present long enough, it may lead to an abscess or signs of a more generalized infection.
It is important to take our dogs outside and enjoy nature but taking certain precautions can help to avoid the risks. Keeping our yards and property well mowed will help to prevent foxtails from becoming a problem at home. When going out for a walk in the park or forest, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and what your dog has access to. If you are walking on a leash and staying on a path, then, of course, your dog is at less risk compared to if your dog is off-leash in a forest and likes to explore and sniff at anything they can. It’s important to check your dog’s mouth, face and fur after being out to make sure there isn’t anything hanging on that may cause a problem (and be sure to check for ticks, while you’re at it!).
Written by Centennial Animal Hospital