What is a foxtail?
Foxtail is grass awn/plant material with flowering spikes, the spikes allow them to advance in one direction when they enter a body cavity or penetrate the skin. First reports on foxtails in veterinary medicine are from the early 1930s, it is a regional problem. Some geographic areas don't see them ever and some areas see abundant amounts of them. Foxtails are most abundant from March to October/November, but we do see them year around.
Our hospital see about 1000 cases annually
What is the common location for foxtails in pets?
Ears, nostril, eyes, feet, skin
Miscellaneous locations: Vulva, lungs, abdominal cavity, urinary bladder.
What happens if a foxtail is not removed?
Foxtails never disintegrate in the body. I have seen cases where the pet has a recurrent abscess that is on going for 2 years and once the foxtail is removed the abscess goes away.
Foxtails always have bacteria on them and the body cannot fight it. So the end result on any foxtail that enters a body cavity is infection that will become an abscess.
How do you remove foxtails?
Finding foxtails can be very challenging; depending on the area of penetration: otoscopes are use to visualize them in the ear, nose and vulva.
Our hospital has made huge advancements in the past few years using ultrasound to locate foxtails. When pets (especially dogs) present to the hospital with an abscess, ultrasound is being used to locate the foxtail and possibility assist with removing it. I would say that in about 50 percent of the cases we are able to locate the foxtail. At that stage we are able to pull the foxtail with minimally invasive technique using the ultrasound to guide us through the process. This allows us to remove foxtails from very deep abscesses in a very elegant way with minimal trauma to the animal.
What is the process if the ultrasound technique does not work?
If the ultrasound cannot locate the foxtail we will use the CT scanner to try and locate the foxtail. The CT scanner usually cannot see the foxtail itself but the tract that the foxtails leaves in the body may be visual.
CT allows us to plan our surgical approach to try and maximize the chances of finding the foxtail.
In conclusion foxtails are a huge problem in our area and we at Atascadero Pet Hospital and Emergency Center try constantly to find more ways to be able to find them and remove them in the minimal invasive way.