Spring is here, and summer is just around the corner. With that come two big dangers to dogs here in Northern California, rattlesnakes and foxtails.
There are several types of seed-bearing grasses throughout Northern California, most are commonly referred to as ‘foxtails’. Why are foxtails dangerous? They’re just slim, straw type blades of grass. Keyword here is – blades. One type of foxtail, “ripcut grass” (bromus diandrus) is so dangerous that it actually perforates the guts of cattle when they eat it, and it can easily kill a dog. The only advantage here is that it’s much larger than a foxtail, and thus easier to spot in most canine coats. Ripgut grass is common on grassy hillsides that are left pretty much undisturbed.
From late spring to the first rains of fall foxtails are at their most dangerous.
Symptoms of a dog having a foxtail problem include:
- Inflamed, painful infected lump anywhere on the dog’s body
- Head shaking if lodged in it’s ear
- Eye watering if in it’s eye
- Violent sneezing, sometimes with a bloody discharge from the nostrils if inhaled and lodged in the nasal cavity
- Inflamed sore throat, coughing and gagging if swallowed
Foxtail seeds can even migrate and become lodged in the spine, in the lungs and other internal organs. No matter how careful you may think you are while out walking your dog, these foxtails can enter through the nose, ears, paws, eyes, urethra or skin and travel through the body causing life threatening injury and requiring immediate veterinarian attention.
How to prevent foxtails?
- Remove weeds from your yard
- Stay away from wild grassy, weedy areas while hiking or walking (at least until the first rain of the fall – dry weather makes foxtails extremely sharp and dangerous)
After excursions take a few minutes to carefully brush your dog – check inside and under ears, between the toes, under armpits and in the groin area. If you encounter a foxtail carefully pull it straight out making sure not to break it off. If the foxtail appears to be embedded, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.
The next summer danger, rattlesnakes, are now out and about in the Sierra foothills and have already bitten dogs from Roseville to Colfax. Even though we can take many precautions to avoid rattlesnakes, they are out there hiding in all kinds of crevices, under rocks, even underneath a step in the most manicured backyard. Rattlesnakes do travel, babies are out there and because they can’t control their venom, pose an even greater danger despite their small size.
The best prevention here is to treat your dog to an annual rattlesnake vaccination. If your dog is bit without this protection it may need antivenom injections costing hundreds to thousands of dollars, hospitalization, IV fluids and more. Rattlesnake vaccine however can greatly reduce or eliminate the need for antivenom injections upon an attack and decrease other treatment costs as well. Vaccinated dogs also experience less pain as the protective antibodies start neutralizing venom immediately (per Red Rock Biologics, antibody levels in recently vaccinated dogs are comparable to treatment with three vials of antivenom).
Enjoy your summer, but first call your vet and get your dog in for it’s rattlesnake vaccine, and avoid walking in grassy/weedy areas…at least until the first rains of fall.
Resources: Curtis Clark “Dog Owners’ Guide to California Foxtails”; Sandy Moyer, “Foxtails – A Deadly Summertime Danger”, Bella Online; Red Rock Biologics.