Posts Tagged ‘foxtails’

It’s foxtail season, again!

May 31, 2011

Photo © Margaret Birkhaeuser

 The emergency room docs I work with are  busy pulling foxtails out of eyes, ears, noses, and throats as well as from in between toes.  Such activity reminds me that it is once again time to blog about these pesky bristly plant awns that grow in abundance where I live in California.  In fact they are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi.  For more information about foxtails and the ways they wreak havoc, please read the blog I wrote right about this time last year.  

This year I’d like to tell you about a new way to prevent foxtails from finding their way into their favorite canine orifices (eyes, ears, nose, and mouth). Check out the OutFox Field Guard™ (www.outfoxfieldguard.com), the brainchild of a clever woman named Margaret Birkhaeuser. I suspect her invention was born as a result of multiple foxtail related trips to the veterinary hospital.  Have a look at Margaret’s site and you will see dogs modeling their mesh bonnets along with a video demonstrating the ease of attaching and detaching the device from a dog’s collar.  Believe it or not, dogs can drink and even carry toys in their mouths while wearing them!  A few of my clients who have purchased the product are completely sold on their investment.  

Photo © Margaret Birkhaeuser

If your dog has been a foxtail repeat offender I strongly encourage you to consider the OutFox Field Guard™.  Not only is it a great insurance policy to protect your dog’s health, think about the money you’ll save by eliminating trips to the vet clinic during foxtail season.  

Photo © Margaret Birkhaeuser

Has your dog been a repeat offender?  Please share your story.  

Best wishes for good health,   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook   

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Those Frustrating Foxtails

May 18, 2010

My littlest dog Nellie came in the house tonight sneezing.  Any other time of year and I would be unconcerned, but in late spring and early summer an abrupt onset of sneezing after being outdoors is a “foxtail in the nose alarm bell”.  I’ll be watching Nellie like a hawk for the rest of the evening. Any crinkling of her nose, ongoing sneezing, or bloody nose and she’ll be my first patient tomorrow morning. 

If you are unfamiliar with foxtails, count your blessings! These pesky, bristly plant awns grow in abundance throughout California and are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi.  Once the plant heads dry, they become hell bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and just about every other orifice.  They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes).  Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body and associated symptoms vary based on location.  For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung labored breathing and coughing.  Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction.  Unless caught early, they and the bacteria they carry either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage.  Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack- notoriously difficult to find and remove. 

Take the example of Emma Louise, an undeniably adorable Brittany Spaniel mix whose family told me that her favorite pastime is running through fields with her nose to the ground. They described her as a “foxtail magnet” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years.  I was asked  to  help figure out the cause of Emma Louise’s hunched back and straining to urinate. With abdominal ultrasound I discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine, extending into her pelvic canal.  Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail in there somewhere.  The question was, would we be able to find it?  

As is my medical tradition before launching a foxtail search, I recited a prayer to the “god of foxtails.” I then turned Emma Louise over to one of my surgical colleagues for exploratory surgery. After two hours of nail biting and a barrage of expletives originating from the O.R., I heard a shout of,   “Got it!”   The foxtail had been located and removed, and sweet little Emma Louise made a rapid and complete recovery.  Not finding the foxtail would have meant a lifetime of antibiotics to treat her foxtail induced infection. 

If you suspect your dog has a foxtail related issue, contact your veterinarian right away to find out what steps can be taken (at home or in the veterinary hospital) to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material.  Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention. If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat a couple of times daily- checking ears and toes, too- to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!  Have you and your dog experienced any foxtail nightmares?  If so, please share your story.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

The Evil That Lurks in California

October 2, 2009

You’ve heard it in the news.  There’s the gazillion dollar budget deficit, declining academic test scores, state park closures, and never-ending heated discussion about gay marriage and illegal immigrants.  What you may not know is that there is something even more sinister lurking in California.  It is of the ilk that science fiction writers fantasize about- alien creatures that penetrate body cavities, migrate through tissues, and wreak havoc!

Take the recent case of Emma Louise, a darling four-year-old residing in northern California.  One minute she was a healthy, happy, go-lucky little girl.  The next minute she was writhing in pain.  Doctors could not figure out what was wrong.  Little did they know that an alien had invaded her being and poor little Emma Louise was incapable of describing the evil that lurked within…….

Hmm, as I write this I’m wondering if I’ve been denying in inner desire to write science fiction!  I met Emma Louise just a few days ago.  She came to me for a second opinion to try to figure out the cause of her abdominal discomfort. Emma Louise is undeniably adorable- part hound dog and part Brittany Spaniel- and there’s nothing she enjoys more than running through fields with her nose to the ground.  The problem is, the fields are loaded with foxtails- awful little bristly weeds that grow rampantly throughout California in the late spring and summer months.  They seem hell bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and just about every other orifice.  Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing them, the foxtails are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction.  Unless caught early, they can migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage.  Once foxtails have moved internally, they are notoriously difficult to find- they become the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Apparently Emma Louise was a “foxtail magnet” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years.  Her current symptoms were different than any she’d experienced before- she appeared to have abdominal pain and was straining to urinate and have bowel movements.  Other than a mild fever and some abdominal splinting, her physical examination findings were unremarkable. I performed abdominal ultrasound and discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine and extending back (towards her tail) into the pelvic canal.  Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail somewhere in that huge abscess pocket.  The question was, would we be able to find it.

I prayed to the “god of foxtails” and turned Emma Louise over to one of my esteemed colleagues (a surgical specialist) for abdominal exploratory surgery. After approximately two hours of me biting my nails and some expletives heard in the operating room, there was a shout of “Hurray!” My colleague had located and removed the foxtail!  Now with some post-op exercise restriction and a course of antibiotics, Emma Louise will be good as new.  Not finding the foxtail would have meant lifelong antibiotics, unless the foxtail migratory course happened to exit the body.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to experience the unique flavors and marvelous beauty of California.  After reading this, you might just have a change of heart- now that you know of the evil that lurks there!

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

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