It’s spring again and the beauty of nature is awakening all around! The grass is green, the flowers are blossoming and the birds are chirping. It is the perfect time of year to soak up the sun and spend the day outside, rolling around in the grass with your four-legged companion. But there are some hidden dangers in this luscious landscape that could be very dangerous to your dogs and cats and they are often found right in your own backyard.
Foxtail refers to several grassy, barley-like weeds that can be identified by the bushy seeds poking out from the top of the stalk. They are a common problem in many states west of the Mississippi and are especially active here in Southern California when the weather starts warming up. This type of tall grass may make the hills look pretty in the spring time, but as soon as a heat wave hits, those little seeds at the tips are going to start drying out and will become a big danger to our pets.
When the seeds dry out, they become easily detached from the grass and just love to cling to anything else that touches them, including clothing and fur. The danger lies in the barbed shape of these little hitchhikers. They are pointed at one end and tend to flare out like a fish hook on the other side. This shape allows for movement in only one direction; there is no reverse. When pets come into contact with these wayward weeds, they can easily be in for some serious health problems.
Foxtails clinging to fur can wiggle their way up through the body’s natural movements as your pet goes about his business. Because of the pointy front end, foxtails can puncture skin or get caught in narrow areas such as the ears, nose, eyes and genitals. Once they’re in, they won’t be backing themselves out and they’ll only continue to wiggle their way deeper into the body, causing any number of uncomfortable symptoms including swelling, sneezing, head shaking, squinting and lameness, depending on the location. If your pet starts showing any of these symptoms, seek veterinary help immediately! The longer you wait, the worse it will get and the harder it will be to remove.
So what can be done about these pesky pokers?
The best bet for prevention is to know what you’re looking for. Avoid allowing your pet to enter areas where tall grasses are abundant and give them a thorough rub down at least once a day, checking between toes, in the ears and everywhere else on the body. Try to keep your pet groomed, especially during the spring and summer months to make it easier to spot any seeds that might be imbedded in the fur.
If your lawn suffers from an infestation of these unwanted grasses, be prepared for some serious yard work. Because they are a grass, foxtails are notoriously difficult to get rid of without killing off the good grasses that you actually want to keep. Depending on the density of foxtails you are dealing with, you might consider a complete overhaul of your landscaping – just kill everything and start from scratch. If that’s not an option, hand pulling little patches and making sure the good grass is dense should help keep foxtails from getting a hold on your lawn. Frequent mowing is also good practice to keep any remaining weeds from growing tall enough to germinate.
And remember, even if you don’t have a single blade of grass on your property, the wind can blow foxtail seeds quite a ways, so don’t just assume that Fluffy has a sudden ear infection or sinus allergies and start dumping medicine inside; you could force the foreign body in further. Check with your vet first!