Even short-haired dogs can pick up foxtails, burdocks and stick tights. Foxtails are considered more of a summer problem in the western part of the country, but they can show up in almost any season if the dried plants are left standing. Any dog that runs in fields, through woods, or near the brush alongside mowed paths can pick up these plant hitchhikers.
Removing burdocks from a long-haired dog can be quite a nuisance. Burdocks and stick tights tend to wrap in hair or cling tightly to a short coat. With a gentle, straight pull they can usually be removed fairly easily if found right away.
With time, the burrs bind tightly to the hair and become more difficult to pull off. In addition, many dogs (and some cats) will chew vigorously trying to remove these plant irritants. This can lead to plant debris in the pet’s mouth, which is sometimes swallowed. The plant fibers can cause coughing and gagging as they irritate the throat on the way down. Some dogs will develop irritation of their gums and tongue from chewing on burdocks.
Some plant seeds and thistles actually will burrow into tissues. This is a major problem with foxtails. These tiny plant barbs can lead to nasty abscesses internally. They commonly get snuffled up into nasal passages or slide down into the ear canals. If you live in foxtail country and your dog sneezes more than once or twice, has a nasal discharge, or has a discharge from the ear, schedule a veterinary exam. Your pet may need sedation for removal and cleanup of the damage done.
You can prevent some of these plant attacks by trimming weeds around your fenced yard and fence lines. When out walking, be on the lookout for clumps of burdocks and other burr-type plants. Call your dog back to you or shorten up the lead to keep your dog out of that area. Try to check your dog carefully after each walk. Do a visual check and then carefully run your hands over your dog’s coat. Don’t forget to check armpits, fringes behind the ears, and under the neck. Removing these plant irritants right away is easiest and will prevent secondary problems.