Another perhaps less considered hazard for our canine comrades in the Summer outdoors are various species of "Foxtail Grass" and their barbed seeds, imported from the treacherous Ninth Circle of Hell.
This is what a barbed foxtail seed looks like, for anyone unfamiliar with the term foxtail, I'm sure most of us have seen them before:
Foxtails and other grass seed awns have evolved to burrow a one way path into and through soil. Unfortunately they do not differentiate between soil and flesh.
This is a foxtail barb caught in the fur of a dogs paw beginning to burrow:
If the foxtail isn't removed, it will continue to embed itself into the soft tissue of the dogs paw. This usually causes an abscess, which is a pocket of infection caused by the combination of contaminants introduced by the seed awn and the dog's natural immune response; Trying to expel/eat the contaminants and the proverbial horse they rode in on. It can look something like this:
At this point, the removal of the foxtail will require minor surgical intervention with sedation or anesthesia and possibly oral antibiotics.
Barbed seed awns don't infiltrate your dogs blood stream and begin growing through or out of their cardiovascular system. Just like earwigs don't seek out ears to lay eggs.
They will however keep moving forward through whatever's in front of them, short of bone. This can cause multiple complications, especially through the skull, chest, and abdomen. Left unnoticed, the degree and severity of trauma and secondary infection can ultimately be fatal as wound channels and abscesses proliferate internally. If foxtails have found their way into any of those major life sustaining structures it can require significant and immediate surgical intervention. However, like the floating islands of garbage in the Pacific, it doesn't get that bad overnight.
Foxtails are frequently found in and around the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, paws, rectum & groin. So, basically everywhere. Longer coated animals are at greater risk for picking up unwelcome ride-a-longs.
Common signs and symptoms other than the visualization of foxtails being present on or around the dog include:
- Visible discomfort
- Head tilting
- Sneezing & coughing
- Head shaking
- Non-weight bearing on affected limbs
- Frequent chewing or licking of paws
If this reads like the symptom list of almost every other thing that could go wrong with your dogs health, it's because it pretty much is. As owners you'll always be the first person to notice something seeming off with your pup. Being accurately aware of foxtails, the risks they pose and how to prevent their perpetual motion might come in handy if you're on a multi-day trip.
At work we always check the dogs for ticks and foxtails after any kind of activity in open areas with awned grass present. Effectively neutralizing two of the Summer's crappiest birds with one stone. It's a good policy and something I should probably do more frequently with my personal dogs during and after an adventure.
If anyone knows Aaron Christensen, make sure to pass the info along to him for his dog. I can't seem to find him on the members list or elsewhere.
The picture below is a dog named Laika. We had to remove a foxtail that was trying to push through her ear drum after a multi-day mission in Afghanistan. If she hadn't been shaking her head so much, I may never have bothered to look inside her ear, and in a few more days that thing would've been on a one way trip through her brain holster. Dogs have a vertical and horizontal ear canal making a shape like the letter "L." Pro tip: It is not always easy getting down there to pull something out and its not always easy noticing tiny little Satan seeds passively invading your dog. A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but if you can't prevent it, having more knowledge of what it could be and how to address it can make a big difference.
If you'd like to know more, here are some good links that include most of the google imagery attached to this post: