Hidden in the long grass: the lethal foxtail that’s killing dogs

You might need to keep a tighter leash on your pooch this summer as reports of deadly foxtail grass make grazing dangerous.


What’s the story?

According to an article in The Telegraph, the warm weather has caused foxtail grass to spring up over parks and gardens across the country. The seeds they carry are shaped like darts – perfect for penetrating pooch skin or inhaling – where they then burrow deeper, causing painful and in some cases life-threatening tissue damage.

Often dogs will catch the seeds in paws and fur, but they can puncture eardrums and make them deaf. And if they’re inhaled or swallowed they can be difficult to remove. Tragically this means your dog might have to be put down.

Why now?

Last year saw record amounts of foxtail grass, thanks to the cool, wet spring according to botanical specialist Dr Trevor Dines, from charity Plantlife. He explains that: ‘In particular, the cool conditions in March and April held many grass species back – when warmer conditions finally arrived in May and June many species grew suddenly seeded abundantly at the same time, which might lead to an increase in reports of problems.’

In 2015, foxtail grass was the cause of nearly 500 dog injuries, with insurance companies predicting them to be the most common summer claim – costing owners up to £350.

Why is it lethal?

While the exact figure of deaths is unknown, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) told The Telegraph that the seeds alone are rarely lethal, although associated injuries may kill. But getting a seed lodged in tummies or lungs can cause abscesses to develop, so says Gudrun Ravetz, the junior vice president of the BVA.

‘The severity of the resulting infection or the potential abscess is what can place owners in the position of their dog undergoing difficult surgery or euthanasia. This isn’t a new problem, but owners should be aware of the issues grass seeds can cause if not treated.’

How can you avoid it?

Check your lawn for long grass and keep it mown short as much as you can. Give your dog a good once over when they’ve been out to play to check for any seeds in their coat or paws. If your dog has been sneezing or coughing more than usual, they may have gotten a seed lodged inside, so get it checked out at the vets right away.

If you’re worried the grass in your usual park or field might have long foxtail grass growing, change where you go for a walk. Dogs crave new environments anyway – it’s great for keeping them mentally stimulated – so now is the perfect time to start mixing up your routine.

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