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Ask Dr. Z: Pets, foxtails and pregnant women Dr. Dustin Zimmer | Thu, Apr 22 2010 05:38 PM

Dear Dr. Z,

My dog Joey was playing in the weeds, and now is covered in these barbed grass things. He's now shaking his head, and scratching at his ears. My neighbor says he may have a foxtail in his ear. What the heck is a foxtail?


Patty and Joey

Dear Patty and Joey,

A foxtail is a spikelet of a grass that serves to spread it's seed as a unit. They can become a health hazard for long-haired dogs and other domestic animals, and a nuisance for people. The foxtails separate easily, the barbs cause the foxtail to cling to fur, and movement of the animal causes the foxtail to burrow into the fur, since the barbs permit it to move only in the direction of the callus. Because of the heavy rainfall this year, heavy being a loose term for San Diego, we are seeing more foxtails then usual.

I have pulled these annoying little guys from the ears, feet, eyes, nose, and even from the heart! The only way to remove the foxtail from the ears is usually under sedation, because of the anatomy of an animals ear canal. The ear canal of pets actually has a 90 degree bend, and the place where the foxtails lodge is not visible from the outer opening. They are very painful, and can cause serious damage if not removed immediately.

The best thing to do is to keep your pets out of the weeds during the summer, or check the ears/face/feet after a walk to remove these annoying buggers!


Dr. Z

Dear Dr. Z,

I just found out that I am pregnant. I have a cat and a dog, and I am worried about the baby's health. My friends are telling me that I have to give away my pets, but I don't want to do that. Can you give me some guidance?


Sophie, Rocko the dog, and Spatz the cat


Dear Sophie, Rocko, and Spatz,

First of all, congratulations! Having a baby is new and exciting, but also scary as there are many dangers out there. There are many different things that you can do at home, and with your pets, before your baby arrives. You should not have to give them up, if you take precautions.

The most important thing is to get Rocko and Spatz checked out by your veterinarian. Tell your veterinarian that you are expecting, and that you want to make sure your pets are healthy. Your vet may want to deworm them both, as there are many types of parasites that are transmitted to both you and your baby. With cats, the most common pregnancy concern is Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is transmitted through contact with infected feces, or by ingesting infected tissue (ie: eating mice). Thus, it is important to keep a very clean litter box. Any pregnant woman should not come in contact with cat poop, if you have a roommate, husband, or partner, he or she has just earned litter duty.

There are also adjustments that Rocko and Spatz will have to make as you get closer to your due date. You don't want them to feel left out, or have them "act up" by competing for your attention. The most important thing is to never leave a pet alone with a new child. Don't forget, your baby will smell like milk, and they will be defenseless for many months. Yummy baby! When you come home from the hospital, bring a blanket home so that Rocko and Spatz can take turns smelling your infant's new smell. Getting them used to your baby will be a gradual process that should start before the baby is born, and will continue long after.

Sincerely, Dr. Z

Dr. Dustin Zimmer works at Bonita Pet Hospital in San Diego.

If you suspect your dog may have a foxtail in his ears or nose, it will require more than a visual inspection to determine. A trip to the veterinarian is usually necessary.

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