Your ultimate guide to a foxtail-free summer.
By SCRUF Safety Committee
Foxtails are a barbed grass seed that can get into your dog’s body through orifices and skin. A foxtail seed can cause your pet great discomfort, infection, and in rare cases can cause long-standing injury. Foxtails typically need to be removed by a veterinarian and can cost upwards of $400.
While we can’t hike in a 100% foxtail-free environment, we do everything in our ability to prevent your dog getting a foxtail on their hikes with SCRUF. And there’s GOOD NEWS! Foxtails are mostly PREVENTABLE. This newsletter gives more information on what SCRUF is doing to keep your dog hiking all summer long, and information on what you can do at home to keep your dog safe and healthy.
What does SCRUF do to prevent foxtails?
On SCRUF hikes, we:
- Change our routes to less foxtail-heavy parks and trails
- Work on pack management to keep dogs with us and out of the grass
- Prevent our dogs from running around or rolling in foxtail fields
- Help acclimate them to their foxtail hoods
- Check their eyes, ears, nose, and paws after every hike
Tips to keep your dog hiking all summer long
- Purchase a foxtail hood so we can use it on our hikes.
- Keep fluffy dogs’ feet groomed so it’s easy to check for foxtails in between their toes. Can also have your dog wear shoes or booties on their hikes.
- Check your dog’s eyes, nose, ears, fur, and paws for foxtails after each hike. Your SCRUF service provider will do the same.
- Sign up for pet insurance, to relieve some of the stress and expense of a foxtail incident. Foxtail incidents typically cost upwards of $400 per visit.
What happens when a dog gets a foxtail?
When a dog gets a foxtail, it can be extremely uncomfortable for them. They usually will sneeze, shake their head, and paw at their face profusely. They may have bloody discharge from their nostril.
If a dog starts sneezing or shaking their head, we immediately inspect the dog for a foxtail and see if we can remove it. Occasionally the dog will sneeze it out and we can go along with our hike. Because of the shape of the foxtail seed, it is very easy for the seed to go deep into the nose, ear, or eye in just a moment.
If we suspect a dog has a foxtail, we leash the dog and monitor them closely. We often also end the hike early, because a foxtail can be very uncomfortable and distressing for the dog. That means if one dog inhales a foxtail at the beginning of the hike, all six dogs miss their hike that day.
As soon as it’s safe to do so, we contact the dog’s owner. If the dog needs emergency medical attention, we will take them to the emergency vet. Usually a foxtail is uncomfortable and urgent, but not an emergency, and so we ask our clients to please help us with preventing foxtail incidents, and to please be prepared to take their dog to the veterinarian should one occur.
How do I get my dog used to the foxtail hood?
Most dogs get used to wearing the foxtail hood within a few minutes of having it on, and totally forget about it. The more you acclimate your dog to the foxtail hood at home, the easier it will be for them to enjoy wearing it on the trail.
The first time you acclimate your dog to the hood, hold the hood still and let them put their head in and out on their own. Put treats (or their kibble) inside and offer it to them. They will most likely put their head in the hood voluntarily to get the reward. Repeat this several times for multiple days. Avoid going toward your dog with the hood in this initial phase. Encourage the dog to come toward the hood instead.
Keep the sessions short and avoid letting your dog take the hood off themselves, especially by shaking their head or using their paws.
When we use the hood on our hikes, we will reacclimate your dog to it in the new environment. If your dog is uncomfortable wearing the foxtail hood on the trail, your SCRUF service provider will help develop a strategy for how we can get to maximum fun with maximum safety.
My dog usually wears a muzzle on hikes. How can we protect them from foxtails?
Check with your SCRUF service provider if your dog usually wears a muzzle on their hikes. With some dogs muzzles are precautionary and the protection of a foxtail hood may be a higher priority.
Sign me up! Where can I buy a foxtail hood?
You can buy a foxtail hood at Pet Food Express, and they can help you find the right fit. You can also get them online at www.outfoxfordogs.com . Foxtail hoods cost about $47 each.
Foxtails in the paws and skin
All dogs, including those with “painted-on” coats, can get foxtails in their paws. We check their paws after every hike, and we highly recommend our clients to do so as well. Check the skin pockets in between their toes, and under their paws in the spaces between their paw pads.
To make this easier, we highly recommend keeping fluffy dogs’ paw fur trimmed short. And you can provide even further prevention by acclimating your dog to shoes or booties for foxtail season.
Foxtails can also enter a dog’s skin from being caught in its coat. We recommend keeping dogs with velcro fur, like doodles and poodles, trimmed short. All dogs with a medium-to-log coat should be brushed approximately once a day to rid the coat of any foxtails.
When is foxtail season?
Foxtail season begins when the grasses start turning brown, going to seed, and shedding their seeds. It ends when we have substantive rain in the fall, so the seeds can begin to decompose. Even if the grass has been mowed, foxtail seeds are still on the ground until the rains come. Usually this is about May to September, but can begin sooner or end later depending on that year’s weather pattern.
This sounds scary, should we just cancel hikes?
Foxtails are a nuisance, but rarely lead to long-term injury. And they are largely preventable. The risk of foxtail incidents is extremely lowered with a little bit of gear, more vigilant body checks, some grooming, and teamwork. We appreciate all your contributions toward our goal of a Foxtail-Free Summer!
Your SCRUF Pet Care Collective
(We took a couple of these images from internet image search. Contact us for a copy of this blog post in PDF format.)