Don't let foxtails grow to be a problem


The rains held them at bay for a while, keeping the wild grasses green a little longer than usual. But foxtails are fast becoming a problem as the temperatures climb and the grasses dry out.

Much as I hate foxtails, I have to admit they are brilliantly adapted. Their long, slender stems hold sticky seed carriers high, ready to catch a ride on a pant leg or a pet. The carrier itself is designed like a spike, with tiny hairs placed to keep the nettle burrowing forward through whatever material is in the way.

There's no problem when the spike falls to the ground, of course. But when a foxtail sticks on an animal, all too often that burrowing trick is through flesh -- and that can cause some severe problems.

Any pet can pick up a problem in one of these areas:

* Feet. Limping and licking are signs that a foxtail has found a home, probably between an animal's toes. If caught early, the foxtail can be pulled out easily before causing major damage, but if allowed to form an abscess it has to be removed at the vet's. Keep hair between the toes closely cropped and check your pet's feet often.

* Ears. Because of the burrowing nature of foxtails, every head shake drives the pest farther into the ear.

Animals are often able to ignore the presence of a foreign body such as a foxtail, especially if it has softened over time, but it's important that treatment not be ignored. A pet with a foxtail in its ear may develop a chronic foreign-body reaction and infection, involving veterinary care more costly than pulling a foxtail.

* Nose. Because dogs like to sniff, foxtails often lodge in their noses.

The signs are obvious -- sneezing, sometimes violently, sometimes accompanied by bleeding or discharge. Sneezing almost never dislodges a foxtail; in fact, the violent passage of air usually works to drive it in deeper. Early treatment is again the key, since a foxtail in the nose will cause an infection and can even work its way into the lungs and into the spinal column.

The best way to deal with foxtails is through prevention. Keep your yard clear of weeds and steer clear of areas dense with foxtails. Go over your pet carefully and regularly.

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