Several summers ago, a large lump appeared on Pixy’s chest. It showed up overnight and didn’t really seem to bother her. Perplexed I took her to the vet where a new young vet examined her and couldn’t find anything wrong. Maybe she just ran into something, she concluded.
The lump got worse so I saw the more experienced (and Southern California native) vet and she immediately suspected a foxtail. A foxtail? We hadn’t been in the field for a while, and the lump was on her chest. The vet pulled out some strange looking forceps, put Pixy on her side and started digging around. Sure enough, a nasty foxtail surrounded by pus came out. It felt good to be wrong.
So my first encounter with a foxtail was not in a typical location. And although I was well aware of the dangers of foxtails, I had assumed that since I had a short coated dog, and the dog was hadn’t been in the field, we were safe. When in fact, Pixy, a shorthaired Weim had picked up her foxtail in my suburban southern California back yard! Upon closer examination, the tell tale entry hole was visible.
Just what are foxtails? Common out West and in southern states, they are a type of wild barley grass. In other areas of the country the foxtail’s cousins are often known as cheat grass, grass awns or downy brome.
Foxtails begin life in early spring as thin-bladed stalks of green grass. Eventually the plant forms a head, and this is the foxtail – a seed delivery system. In the summer, the plant dries and the foxtail is ready to do its work. The hardened points with tiny barbs pointing away from the tip are easily dislodged by anything that brushes up against it. If you’ve ever had these stuck to your socks you know how just how tenacious these suckers are!
If one gets stuck on your dog, muscle movement allow the barbs to keep pulling it ever forward into the dog’s body. In Pixy’s case, I believe she laid down on it and forced it into her body with her own weight.
Left to its own devices, the foxtail will keep moving until it comes across something too dense to penetrate, like a bone. If it doesn’t find a barrier, it can even travel through and exit the dog somewhere else. Eww!
Foxtails tend to collect between the dog’s toes, in the anal area, edge of the prepuce on male dogs and around a bitch’s vulva. They can also find their way into a dog’s ears, nose, and eyes.
My second encounter with a foxtail was very typical. Sascha picked one up between his toes while field training in Idaho. He developed a telling pea sized lump between the toes and started to lick and limp. When you suspect one between the toes or somewhere else on the body, hot compresses can sometimes help rupture the swelling and will often expel the foxtail at the same time. You may have to do this for several days and eventually squeeze it out. If nothing comes out, seek a vet’s assistance. The vet will try to remove it with forceps, or he may need to surgically remove it. Thanks to quick action and a skilled vet, Sascha was back to work in just a couple days.
Foxtails in your Weim’s eyes can sometimes be treated at home as well. Pawing, squinting or sudden discharge which may glue your Weim’s eyes shut are all signs that he may have one in his eyes. Flush his eyes with antiseptic eyewash daily. If you can see the foxtail, use some mineral oil to soften it up and you can remove it by holding the dog’s eyes open gently and using tweezers. If the foxtail is lodged around his eyelids, do not attempt to remove it! Take him to the vet for extraction and treatment.
A foxtail in the ear requires a vet visit. Signs that your Weim might have a foxtail in his ear include pawing at the ear or shaking or cocking the head. A skilled vet will need to remove the foxtail taking care to not disturb the ear drum. This usually requires sedation.
Another common place – up the nose. Your Weim will sneeze and sneeze, and hopefully he’ll sneeze it out. This is one that I’ve experienced many times when we are training our hunting Weims. Naturally, the dogs are using their noses looking for birds and they sometimes sniff foxtails up. It scares the *bleep* out of me when they start sneezing. Continued sneezing is a bad sign (more than 30 minutes) and you need to go to the vet. And….if that foxtail isn’t found, it’s time to worry that it may have been inhaled into the lungs. Once in the lungs, it causes serious pneumonia-like symptoms and might require surgery to remove it or the lobe it’s lodged in.
Having observed Pixy’s foxtail being removed, the procedure is rather straight forward. Alligator forceps are inserted into the suspect area and the vet opens and closes them so the tip of the forceps try to grab the foxtail blindly. When your vet pulls out that snotty looking pus-encased foxtail, it is a great sight, let me tell you.
Protecting your Weimaraner from foxtails means paying attention to where he’s been running and avoiding foxtail heavy areas. Foxtails can be very dangerous but shouldn’t keep you from giving your Weim some field time. Just be aware of their dangers, exam you Weim regularly and make sure to act quickly when you spot foxtail symptoms.