Summer is here in the Bay Area and 4 things come to mind. Foxtails, Fleas, Fights and Fear (phobias). This time of year with the beautiful weather and people taking a little more time to be out and about with their dogs, veterinarians see many more problems than we do the rest of the year.
The hills are alive with foxtails everywhere. As dogs get to run off leash in many of our parks they inevitably encounter these irritating and potentially expensive parts of nature. After the much needed rains we had this year, I see more foxtails than I have in quite some time. Even in well manicured neighborhoods foxtails are seen on curb strips along streets and will ensnare house dogs that never go to our wonderful parks.
It is not uncommon for our hospital to field 3-5 calls daily for dogs that are having problems with foxtails. I’ll talk about where they commonly occur and what owner’s/guardians can do to both help prevent and first aid once they get one.
There is almost nowhere on/in a dog that I have not removed foxtails. Most commonly they are in the ears, nose, eyes and feet. For preventing foxtails from getting into those spots, you can purchase a netting that covers the head and neck area. From my experience I have found that about half the dogs will tolerate these and the other tend to pull them off or bite through the netting. For dogs with furry feet the best thing is have a groomer give the paws a shave down so they are less likely to trap a foxtail between their toes. It’s important for owners of all dogs to check between there toes and foot pads after every walk.
Now, what to do if your dog gets a foxtail? It is usually fairly obvious when they get one up their nose. It usually starts with violent sneezing and maybe some eye twitching on the side that has the foxtail. Sometimes the foxtail will be sneezed out and you may not see it. If this happens the sneezing should subside over the next few minutes. The dog’s mucus secretions in their nose will soften the foxtail and make it less irritating, however most dogs will still have some sneezing if the foxtail is still in their nose. This is when they should see a veterinarian to have it removed which requires an anesthetic to scope the nose. The longer it is left in the harder it may be to locate and remove.
Now for the ears. Like the nose, ear foxtails usually cause head shaking. It’s impossible for owners to see the foxtail because once the dog starts shaking it drives it further down the ear canal which requires an otoscope to locate the foxtail and remove it. If you are fairly certain your dog has a foxtail in their ear, and you can’t get to the vet to have it removed that day, you can ease your pets discomfort by applying some cooking type oil into the ear canal which will then soften the spikey ends of the foxtail. However: IT WILL STILL NEED TO BE REMOVED.
Foxtail in the eye? Once again it will be fairly obvious because your dog will be squinting or holding their eye closed. This should be dealt with ASAP. If you can see the foxtail caught under the eyelid gently remove it. The only first aid I recommend is the use of an over the counter topical eye lubricant applied 3-4 times daily until you can get to a vet’s office, which should be right away to assess the damage to the corneal surface. If the foxtail is removed right away damage is usually limited to a superficial corneal abrasion, however it can be much more serious than this so waiting will only make the problem and treatment much more difficult. Once again – eyes require immediate attention!
How about those 4 feet. The most common early sign of a foxtail in the foot is excessively licking at the toes or chewing at the foot pad area. At this point the foxtail is usually already well into the foot and there may be swelling near the sight of entry. If the foxtail stays in long enough it will migrate, cause infection and usually the dog will be limping and possible even a little lethargic. Most foxtails in the feet require removal by a vet with either sedation or an anesthetic, followed by a course of antibiotics if infection is present.
I’ll just mention a few of the other areas that we encounter foxtails so you can be aware of what to watch for. We find them in the tonsillar crypts and back of throat (for those dogs who like to chew on these plants), in their lungs, in the sheath of the penis, inside the vagina, trapped in the skin under matted fur, free floating in their abdominal cavity, wedged in their spine, and in the gum pockets of teeth. In a nutshell they can be found anywhere.
Now briefly for the other 3F’s. Fleas are everywhere. Your dog does not have to go to the park to pick them up. You can bring them home from your own walks outside – your yard where squirrels and other creatures pass through, dropping off fleas that love to enjoy your dog’s home. Maintain strict flea control with either an oral or topical flea product. If you have a cat those too can be a source of fleas for your dog. There is a new topical product for cats called Cheristan, which can be purchased from your veterinarian without a examination. It is low volume and doesn’t have an offending odor.
Even though the 4th of July has passed, many areas still have fireworks and thunderstorms which can cause high anxiety for many dogs. Zoetis has a new product that is for noise phobia called Selio. Available by prescription only, it is quite effective and very safe to use. Also a medication called trazadone can also work for dogs with fears at the groomers or vet. I have my clients give this to their animal 1-2 hours before coming to the office or the groomers and it really can calm the animal down and is very safe to use.
The last of the “4F’s” of summer: Fights. There is nothing more emotionally distressing for an owner than having your dog be in a dog fight. Having watched my own small dog being pinned on the ground while being mauled by a much bigger dog I know first hand how horrible this is to witness. First , a word of caution to owners. DON’T GET BIT. Try not to grab your dog by the collar as you run a big risk of getting bit in the hand or arm. You can suffer major damage to yourself as I have treated many dogs rushed to the hospital only have to send the owner to the emergency room for bites to the hands or arm. If possible grab a rear leg and pull your dog apart. Be aware that your dog will not recognize you and might turn and bite so release as soon as possible. Use your feet (only if you have shoes on) and body to keep the animals apart and move your dog away immediately. Check for wounds, and if you see puncture wounds it is best to get them to a vet as soon as possible to be further examined. Not all damage done by a dogfight is easily seen, which is why being examined by a professional is recommended after a fight.