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Foxtails pose autumn threat to dogs

September 30, 1998

Fall days seem to cry out for long walks with the dog through fields of sun-dried grasses. But wild grasses harbor a potentially fatal threat to dogs in the form of foxtails, those barb-like bristles that seem magnetically drawn to a dog's fur.

Foxtails can easily penetrate a dog's skin, even its foot pads, and are often snuffed up into the dog's nasal cavity. Once inside the dog's body, the foxtail's shape prevents it from backing out. From the nasal cavity, foxtails can work their way into the brain or be inhaled into the lungs.

That's what happened to Brougham, a 2-year-old Saint Bernard from Hayfork, Calif., now recuperating at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital from surgery for a perforated lung and treatment for widespread infection.

"A foxtail nearly killed Brougham," said Dr. Deborah Silverstein, a UC Davis veterinarian specializing in emergency veterinary medicine. "Not all foxtails will have consequences this severe, but it's important that dog owners be on guard against foxtails at this time of year."

Silverstein advises owners to carefully groom their dogs, especially after they've been near open fields, and check between their toes for foxtails. Owners should consult a local veterinarian if they notice their dog is sneezing a lot or shaking its head, which might indicate a foxtail in the nose or ear, she suggests.

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