Wild Things!  Dangers They Pose to our Pets

Laura Vorreyer and Dexter

It’s not only April Showers that bring May flowers, but all the other months of precipitation that has got SoCal blooming. This past winter Southern California received enough rain in one season to end a drought that lasted nearly a decade. This is great news for dried up riverbeds, streams, and our water reservoirs. Unfortunately, though, the flip side of this is an abundance of dangerous plants that can be deadly to our pets.

While it’s easy to weed poisonous plants out of our backyards, it’s impossible to remove them from the great outdoors.

One way to keep our dogs safe from both wild animals and dangerous plants is to have them on leash where we can monitor their activity. If a wild animal suddenly appears on a path you’re walking on with your dog, you have a better chance of keeping your dog by your side if they are leashed. Without a leash, it’s almost guaranteed a dog will chase a bunny, squirrel or even a startled deer.

Unfortunately, even if your dog is on a lead, this doesn’t guarantee their safety.

One particularly menacing plant is foxtail grass. Foxtail is unmistakable in its appearance, as it looks like the tail of a fox, with a bushy top part. The bushy top part, named the awn, is the most dangerous part as it can attach itself to our pets and burrow its way inwards towards a dog’s brain, spine and heart. While it doesn’t always cause death, a foxtail that gets into your dog can cause swelling, abscess and pain. It will never work its way out of your dog, but continues inward.

We can expect to see an abundance of foxtail this year due to the heavy rains and good weather conditions. Foxtails are out in full bloom now, through December. Foxtails grow in abundance in grassy fields and on the sides of even the most manicured lawns. The awn can detach itself from the rest of the grass and become airborne. It is especially important to make sure your dog does not step on one of these. The best practice, of course, is avoidance, but I know all too well that this is not always possible.

Dogs have an uncanny way of getting into the things we want them to stay away from, whether it’s the neighbor’s overfilled garbage can or the path of an angered skunk, if we want them to avoid it, they will inevitably be drawn to it.

About this time last year, I was walking a lab mix named Leo, on leash (of course) in a suburban neighborhood near a school yard. I directed (pulled) Leo away from the school yard because I know Leo loves to clean up after the children. While I pulled Leo away from the schoolyard, I inadvertently pulled him right into an abandoned yard full of foxtails which he jumped into immediately, trying to get to a lizard. Before I had time to react, Leo was deep into the foxtails. I pulled Leo out quickly but there were many foxtails attached to him. I worked fast to remove them, but two stuck. One in his eye and the other in a nostril. I did manage to get the one in his nostril out, but the one in his eye was in there pretty good.

Off to the emergency veterinarian we went. Just in the ten-minute ride to the emergency vet, a lot less foxtail was visible as it worked its way into poor Leo. Thankfully, the veterinarian removed the foxtail with a tweezers and special tools, but it wasn’t a good experience for me or Leo or my wallet, for that matter.

The lesson here is to keep clear of foxtails at all cost. Check your dog after walks in nature for any plants or even ticks that might have become stuck to them. Look especially for thorns and barbs, in between the pads of their paws. Look for licking, sneezing or head shaking to indicate your dog has something on him, or worse, in him, that he shouldn’t. Dogs with long hair should be checked extra carefully as a foxtail can be easily missed. If you think your dog has ingested a poisonous plant or has a foxtail which has burrowed into them, take them to the veterinarian immediately.

Laura Vorreyer pioneered the dog-walking industry in Hollywood over 15 years ago and is the author of the book and audiobook, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale.” She is the owner of the pet care company Your Dog’s Best Friend, a premier dog-walking and pet-sitting business in Los Angeles. Laura has taught pet-sitting and dog-walking classes in Los Angeles and is also a passionate advocate for animal rights. She remains dedicated to pet rescue.

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