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In these chronically difficult economic times, people often look for ways to save money on vet bills or animal-related expenditures. Some ways involve corner cutting: foregoing Fluffy’s semiannual exam or feeding Fido an ultra-cheap diet. I don’t recommend these methods.

There are, however, two very simple ways to save money and help your pet unequivocally. I endorse these methods. The first, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is to brush your pet’s teeth every day. The second, if you live where foxtails are common, is to be foxtail-savvy.

In places such as California where foxtails exist, they are public enemy number one in the veterinary world. Foxtails, or grass awns, lodge in the skin, ears, eyes, mouths, noses, private parts of unfortunate pets. Once in place, they wreak enormous havoc. They can migrate throughout the body, causing infection and inflammation everywhere they tread. And they can end up in sensitive places such as the heart or the lungs, where they can cause death.

Here are some tips on being foxtail-savvy:

First, know what they are and what they look like. Stay away from them if at all possible. The following images should give you an idea of the enemy we face.

If you have a cat, keep him indoors. This will provide nearly complete protection against the vegetative pests.

If you have a dog, use common sense. Keep him or her on leash whenever you’re in foxtail territory. In northern California, this means just about everywhere. Never let a pet roam through tall, seeded grass at any time of the year — but especially not in spring and summer.

Check your dog for foxtails after every walk. Pay special attention to the feet, the chest, and the ears.

If your pet develops sudden problems with an ear or an eye, or if he starts sneezing violently, or if a particular area of the skin becomes inflamed, seek immediate veterinary care. A foxtail could be to blame. The longer the problem is left unaddressed, the worse it will get.

First photo: Foxtails ripening up, dreaming of harming cats and dogs in one of America’s most densely populated cities. Copyright me.
Second and third photos: 2008 Paige Filler via Wylio
Final photo: 2009 Matt Lavin via Wylio