The barbed edge nature of the foxtail gives it the ability to travel in one direction, making its small appearance more dangerous than the initial glance.  Despite its cute sounding name, the foxtail has been known to take on your pet’s largest defense system, the skin!  Entering between the footpads, into the mouth or nose, and even penetrating the side of the chest.  This seed can create a lot of damage during it its path of destruction.  As it passes through the skin it brings along bacteria and other debris.  Wherever the foxtail is stopped along its journey, whether it be the footpad, tongue, or even brain, it causes an inflammatory reaction.  This is the body’s way of signaling intruder alert, must destroy. However, the foxtail is resilient and can be difficult for the body to remove, leading to abscess formation.

Symptoms of a foxtail in your dog or cat include: licking at the paws, limping, sudden lump appearance that is warm to the touch, sneezing, and coughing during the summer months.

Symptoms of foxtails in your horse include: dropping feed, sneezing, increased salivation, and general avoidance of anything in their mouth. Horses are usually exposed to foxtails by eating them, therefore all symptoms are usually associated with the mouth, lips, and nose.

In order to prevent this whirlwind of emotions, in both you and your pet, follow these simple tips and tricks to reduce foxtail exposure and damage.

1.     Don’t play around foxtails – Be sure to look around the space your pet will play in before allowing them to go there. Check the hay you feed your horse to make sure it is free of foxtails.

2.     Check your dog or cat for foxtails after playing in an area that may contain foxtails – look between the paw pads for any foxtails or small red areas where one may have entered the skin.

3.     Bring your pet to your veterinarian if they develop any of the listed symptoms. With the appearance of these signs be sure to have your pet checked over. The sooner the problem is addressed the better the outcome and prognosis!

If your veterinarian suspects that your animal has a foxtail they will complete a physical exam to ensure that your pet is stable.  From there further diagnostic tests and treatments can be carried out to help isolate the foxtail and remove it from your pet.  Using an endoscope to obtain an image of the inside of your pet’s nose, or performing a good oral exam on your horse are only some of the techniques used to visualize the foxtails.  Flushing an abscess or surgical removal of embedded foxtails are two ways in which they can sometimes be removed.  In addition to this, your pet may be placed on antibiotics and pain medications in order to help resolve any issues the foxtail had caused.

A foxtail in your pet can be just as annoying for you, your pet, and your veterinarian.  So be sure to be patient through the process of isolation and treatment. There may even be times when the offending foxtail is not found, however, symptoms may resolve due to diligent and timely treatment.

Written by Dr. Jenna Noordenbos
Learn more about Dr. Noordenbos here.