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Worst weeds for dogs? Foxtails are just a start
The Dry Garden: Worst weeds for dogs
A romp with your dog in the garden or park should be a happy thing. Life-affirming! Usually it is, until your dog encounters the wrong plant. Then it can swiftly become pain and suffering, first for the dog, then for your bank account. Inspired by my recent emergency room visit with terrier after what seemed like a Kodak moment in a meadow, this column is what amounts to a dog owner’s Most Wanted list of plants that gardeners should remove.
At the top of my list and also the lists of veterinarian Nancy Kay and UC Davis weed scientist Joseph DiTomaso are foxtails. Depending on where you live, foxtails might be any number of grasses with needle-like seed heads. After a spectacularly wet winter and a mild, unusually long growing season this year, foxtails are still standing — and at their most deadly: dry and brittle. The seeds are primed to embed themselves in your dog. In Southern California, DiTomaso said common foxtail-type grasses are wild barley, Hordeum murinum, and ripgut brome.
Ripgut is right. The shimmering head of needles that makes foxtails so lovely when backlit can tear through the insides of an animal. The needles, or “awns,” which the plants produce to latch onto the fur of passing animals, are meant to drill down into soil. But they also burrow into the eyes, noses, mouths, paws, tails and armpits of dogs, particularly long-haired ones. Dogs tracking scents inhale them. Dogs panting as they gallop swallow them.
“They’re horrible! They’re a nightmare!” said Kay, who estimates that in summer, the emergency room of the animal hospital where she works in Northern California might see 60 to 90 cases a month involving foxtails.
The problem with foxtails is that once they become embedded in your dog and begin traveling through it, they don’t break down, Kay said. Rather, the hooking design that enables foxtails to burrow in soil keeps them moving forward in animals. Some foxtails might enter the paw and eventually pop out the elbow. Foxtails that go up the nose might be swallowed and safely pooped out, but awns sucked in by a panting dog running full tilt with nose to the ground can end up in the lungs.
Kay, author of the pet healthcare book “Speaking for Spot” and publisher of the Speaking for Spot website, blogs as perennially as grass grows about how to protect dogs from foxtails. She reckons that the best precaution is staying out of areas with foxtails: along mountain trails, vacant lots and even in lawns.
For those whose dogs are hiking partners, Kay likes a new safety garment: the OutFox Field Guard, a net that can be attached to a dog’s collar. It looks like a lost piece of canine costuming from “The Mosquito Coast” or “Outbreak.” But for some it also could be smart. “It’s the invention of someone who loves dogs,” Kay said.
To protect the rest of the body, Kay recommends taking your dog to the vet or groomer and asking for a “foxtail cut” that trims fur away from paws, making them easy to inspect. Inspect, we should, she stressed, after every trip to afflicted areas. Check paws, armpits, tail, eyes, nose, eyes.
Signs that a dog has foxtails include compulsive licking of paws or convulsive sneezing, which Kay described as, “the kind where they hit their nose on their ground, they’re sneezing so hard.” If this happens, she urges the pet owner to get to the vet sooner rather than later. After imagining (wrongly) that my terrier’s sneezes were the product of a tour through pollen-laden flowers, I can speak from experience that later costs a lot more.
And if you are mowing a yard that has foxtails? “Mowing them down isn’t adequate because they’re dry,” Kay said. “After mowing them, you have to rake and get them out of your yard.” Put them in your green waste bin rather than compost them at home. Municipal compost piles get much hotter than small domestic ones and therefore kill weed seeds more effectively.
Second on my list of plants to yank on sight, and also singled out by DiTomaso, is the common lawn weed California burclover, above. This masquerades as clover but is a multi-limbed weed that can evade the mower by lying flat in grass, eventually studding it with small, stinging burs. So much for the picnic, never mind the puppy.
For ouch value, add to the list puncturevine, or Tribulus terrestris, right, DiTomaso said.
Also add hedgeparsley, or Torilis arvensis. According to a scary-funny UC Davis extension sheet, hedgeparsley is also called “the Velcro plant” because “it produces small, about 1⁄4 inch, burrs with little barbs that can seemingly stick to anything.” The hooked spines on bur chervil, or Anthriscus caucalis, also deserve a name from the sewing box.
The upshot for gardeners? If you see these weeds, pull them. They’re noxious. For dog owners? If you have dogs, protect them.
Green’s column on sustainable gardening appears here on Fridays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook gardening page.
Foxtail photos: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times. Netted dog photo: John Perry/Marie Travers. Burclover photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times. Puncturevine photo: J.P. Clark.
Grass Awns In Dogs: A Deadly Summer Danger
Walking through a grassy field in summer with your dog may seem harmless, but there could be deadly grass awns lurking in plain sight. Learn about how this common plant affects dogs, and how to prevent your dog from coming into harm’s way.
You might have noticed that dogs like to eat grass, but did you know that some types of grass can actually be deadly for your furry friend? In particular, we’re talking about grass awns, the summer danger for dogs that unfortunately many dog parents aren’t aware of. To help change that, we’ve gathered all the facts on grass seeds – a.k.a grass awns in dogs – and how they can be dangerous. That way, you can prep for a safe and healthy summer.
Table of contents
What is a grass awn?
Grass awns are the cause of many pet emergencies in summer. These awns find their way inside a dog’s body, where they don’t belong, leading to injury, infection and illness. But what, exactly, is a grass awn?
Grass awns are sharp, stiff, bristle-like structures which grow from the ear or flower of many types of wild grasses and grains, including barley and rye. 1 Awns come in all different shapes and sizes – some are barbed, some are needle-like.
Here’s an example of what a grass awn can look like, courtesy of veterinarian Darragh O’ Hanlon (a.k.a @thetopicalvet).
Other names for grass awns
Due to their large variety, grass awns are called by many names, including:
- mean seeds
- june grass
- timothy hay
- downy brome
- needle grass
- wild barley
- spear grass
How do grass awns hurt dogs?
The problem with grass awns is that they tend to get into your dog’s fur and eventually skin, causing pain and injury. Grass awns can be inhaled, swallowed and even get under a dog’s skin.
If not removed in time, grass awns can lead to infection and abscesses – that is, yucky pockets of pus – that need to be drained. And it’s good to act fast, because grass awns which have entered a dog’s body can migrate inside there, causing damage to internal organs such as the lungs, brain, stomach and spinal cord. This disrupts normal body functions, and can lead to sickness and even death.
Check out Barney’s story below, a real dog who was wounded and had to take a trip to the vet, all because of a few tiny grass seeds:
Which dogs are most at risk of grass awn injury?
Dogs that spend a lot of time in un-mowed, wild, green areas are most likely to suffer injury from grass awns or foxtails. That puts the following at more risk:
- sporting dogs
- field dogs
- hunting dogs
Grass awn on dog symptoms
Symptoms of grass awns in dogs vary depending on where the awn lands on your dog’s body. Use the chart below to help determine where on your dog the awn might be, based on what symtpoms they’re showing:
|Location||Signs of Grass Awn in Dogs|
|Fur / coat||– no visible infection or abscess
– matted hair
|Inside the ear||– scratching/rubbing the ear
– shaking the head
– holding head at a slight angle
|In the eye||– inflamed eye(s)
– discharge or tears
– pawing or rubbing at the nose
– nasal discharge or drainage
|Gums, tongue, mouth or throat||– inflammation
|Between the toes||– redness
– draining tract
– inability to walk on the affected paw
|Lungs or other organs (inhalation or migration)||– tiredness
– weight loss
– shortness of breath
– other signs of sickness
Be on the lookout if your dog seems to lick, scratch, rub, or chew excessively at a certain spot on their body; this could be a sign of a grass awn infection. Also look for redness, inflammation, irritation, and sores with discharge. Take note if your dog seems extra tired, depressed or has a lowered appetite.
If you spot any of these symptoms, it’s best to see your vet immediately.
When is it safe to remove a grass awn from my dog?
If you notice some grass awns on your dog’s fur, remove them as soon as possible. You can remove them by hand, or use a brush to speed things up 2 .
It is generally safe to remove grass awns from your dog yourself, as long as the awns have not got into your dog’s body.
If you notice grass awns have punctured the skin, or are in your dog’s nose for example, it’s best not to remove them yourself but seek a vet’s assistance as soon as possible.
Since awns typically have hooks or barbs at the end of them, removing them yourself could cause them to snap or break. This means that a tiny piece of the awn might remain in your dog’s body, leading to local inflammation and infection. Not to mention, it could travel deeper into the dog’s body and damage internal organs.
It’s best to see a vet immediately if you suspect a grass awn might have penetrated your dog’s skin (or any other body part).
Treatment for grass awns in dogs
Treatment for grass awns in dogs first involves identifying the injury, which is tricky because grass awns can be difficult to spot. At the vet, a thorough physical examination will help to determine the location of the grass awn. X-rays or ultrasound may also be used to locate awns. The goal of treatment is to successfully remove the grass awn and remove or heal any tissue that has been affected. This often involves surgery and antibiotic therapy, not to mention medicine against pain and inflammation 3 .
Prevention for grass awns in dogs
It’s difficult to completely rule out the chances of your dog coming into contact with grass awns. But here are some precautions you can take to avoid having to go to the vet with a grass awn emergency later:
- Check your dog’s coat and feet regularly; remove any grass seeds as soon as you find them
- If your dog has a long, shaggy coat, trim their hair (if that’s an option) in summer months
- Brush or comb your dog immediately after they spend time outdoors
- When inspecting your dog for awns, double check the toes, ears, and shoulders
- Trim the fur between your dog’s toes and paw pads (find out how to protect your dog’s feet like a pro)
- Learn what different types of grass awns look like, and which can be found in your area
- Keep potentially dangerous weeds out of your yard
- Avoid grassy fields and paths
- Walk your dog on a leash
- Get a Tractive GPS tracker to track your dog in real-time, and know if they wander off into a grassy patch. Live in an area where your dog can roam free? See if your buddy has spent a lot of time in the green in the past few days
- Use protective gear, such as a vest, in case your dog spends a lot of time outdoors in summer
Unfortunately, grass awns or grass seeds from various types of plants like barley and wheat can be a serious threat to dogs in summer. Awns are thin, sharp, spiky and barbed extensions of the flower or ear of a grass, designed to latch on to what’s nearby and spread its seeds. When the sharp ends of grass awns penetrate a dog’s body, it can lead to injury, illness, infection and – in extreme cases – death.
To keep your buddy safe, remove grass awns from your dog’s fur whenever you see them. If the awn is in your dog’s nose, or has punctured your dog’s body, take a trip to the vet. Do not attempt to remove the awn yourself, as this could cause it to snap and leave a small bit of it in your dog. This can lead to further issues like infection and inflammation. In the worst case scenario, grass awns in dogs can travel throughout your dog’s body, causing damage to vital organs, and hurting your furry friend’s health.
You can keep your dog safe from grass seeds by walking them on a leash to prevent them from running through grass, or tracking them with a GPS tracker. If they are outdoors often, a vest or other type of protective gear can come in handy. Inspect your dogs for grass awns after they spend time outside, and keep the fur between their toes trimmed.
If you suspect your dog has come in contact with foxtails, mean seeds or any type of grass awn, do not hesitate to seek veterinary assistance.
For more tips on this topic, check out the video below:
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How to Remove a “Foxtail” from a Dog’s Nose
This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.
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“Foxtails,” despite the fairly pleasant name, refer to a fairly nasty weed that poses a particular threat to dogs. Found in states west of the Mississippi in the US, foxtails produce seeds that can cause an inflamed, painful, infected lump anywhere on an animal’s body. If your dog has picked up a foxtail in its nose, it may present with a sudden burst of snorting and sneezing for a sustained period of time, and then sneezing on a regular basis.