The first morning I saw it, it was just a red patch on my dog’s paw — a little puffy and oozing. Probably an allergy, I thought; after all, late June is still grass pollen season.
It was grass, but the problem wasn’t the pollen; it was the seeds. By the end of the day, half of Biggie’s hind leg was swollen. I called my vet and she said to get him in right away — he probably had a foxtail.
Foxtails are a weed found in the Western U.S. and around Oregon. You can find patches of it all around downtown Eugene right now, coming up in cracks in the sidewalk and in the overgrown yards of businesses closed for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foxtails are dangerous to dogs because they migrate through their bodies. Biggie had to have his surgically removed. It had burrowed its way inches up his leg.
“Like fishhooks,” says Dr. Eleanor Teplin of South Willamette Veterinary Clinic in Creswell of the barbed seeds, also known as awns. “They move one direction. Normally the body can push things out, but these leave a tract that can make the problem much worse because it spreads down the leg.”
Teplin removed Biggie’s foxtail and put him on a strong course of antibiotics. She sent him home with a bandaged foot, and he got to sport the cone of shame for a couple days. And Biggie got off lightly.
Teplin says she’s had a patient with one in his ear that pierced the eardrum and caused neurologic issues. Foxtails have made their way up dogs’ noses, into their eyes and genitals and as far as their lungs.
“Most need to be surgically removed,” Teplin says. And the dogs need to be given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
She says she often sees them in farm dogs and working dogs such as sheep guardians who are out in the fields. Some seasons, she says, are worse than others.
You can’t prevent foxtails, but you can check your dog’s paws, skin and fur if they have been out in the grass — or in Biggie’s case, walking near downtown.
If you see a swelling in the foot or see your dog sneezing a lot or shaking his head, call your vet right away, Teplin says.