It’s peak season for foxtails on the western coast of the United States and Canada, and every pet owner should be aware of their harmful effects on pet health. These seeds are barbed—like fish hooks—and can latch on to your cat or dog’s fur. Once embedded in the fur, foxtails can move into your pet’s skin, nose or ears, leading to serious infections. With some terrible luck, foxtails can impact sensitive organs and even be fatal.
Know the Symptoms and Risks of Foxtails in Dogs and Cats
These seemingly harmless weeds grow in grassland areas and are common along roads and trails across North America. They are especially prevalent in the west—especially California. As the plants dry out in summer months, they become a lighter hay-like color and their seeds break off into small, barbed segments. These barbs can move into the skin and form an abscess or infection, which should be treated by a veterinarian.
Trupanion, a company that offers medical insurance for pets, found that a majority of foxtail claims involved foxtails that entered the ear (21%), nose (19%) and foot (19%). A small portion of claims involved foxtails found in the eye, throat, mouth, and urogenital tract. While a typical foxtail claim is under $250, complications can arise that quickly boost the cost into the thousands. Last August, Trupanion paid out $6,619 to a mixed breed puppy named Coco for exploratory surgery related to foxtails.
Foxtails and pets: What veterinarians advise
Dr. Denise Petryk, one of Trupanion’s on-staff veterinarians, offers five simple steps you can take to keep your pet safe this summer:
- Know what foxtails look like and keep your pet away from them. Try to avoid tall grass.
- Check your dog for foxtails after every walk. Look in their ears, between their paws, and over their coat.
- If you see any sign of foxtails (like an irritated ear, eye, skin, or violent sneezing) take your pet to the veterinarian right away.
- Consider protection. A mask to keep your pet from getting foxtails in their eyes, ears, mouth, or nose.
- Look into pet medical insurance, which would help cover the cost of veterinary expenses if your pet were to encounter a foxtail, and allow you to take them in for treatment right away.