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Foxtail alert!
Of the all the good things that Mother Nature gave to California in the way of good, measurable rainfall, the downside could be in the explosion of foxtails. While wild wheat and grassy hillsides greened up pretty good during the early spring months, now everything — at least at lower elevations — is turning brown. Foxtails are invasive plants that are just now budding out with large blooms and there are three species of foxtails: yellow, green and giant.

Foxtails, aka spear grass, are found in the western United States where massive fields and hillsides can be covered in the wild grass during the summer months.

A STAND OF FOXTAILS NEAR MUTURITY — This photo shows a Riverside County field of nearly mature foxtails. Once the foxtail dries, it becomes hard and the spinney seed can often find its way into gun dogs and wild animals. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

According to information posted on webMD, “The foxtail dispenses its seeds as a single unit and they can become a health hazard for gun dogs. The barbed seed head of the foxtail plant can work their way into any part of your sporting dog, from the nose, ears, eyes and mouth. They can also simply dig themselves directly into a patch of skin.”

This past week while checking on flooded wetlands in Riverside County, this WON hunting writer had to walk-through knee-high foxtails to check out a couple of ponds. The areas were once hunting fields for Raahauge’s Pheasant Club. At first, I thought it was just wild grass and perhaps some carry-over wheat that was waving in the wind, but upon closer inspection the hillsides were covered in foxtails along with a few other wild plants mixed in.

With just short boots on, the choice would be to avoid walking through the high foxtails and try to stay on a rabbit path or along a route that had been taken recently by a couple of feral hogs that have recently made Prado Basin home.

Normally, owners of gun dogs try to stay out of the field until foxtails have matured and fallen to the ground, which usually occurs around September. Many dove hunters opt to not take their dog dove hunting when there lots of foxtails around. Once a mature foxtail dries out, they will then bury themselves in the ground and go dormant until spring rain triggers a new germination of this invasive and dangerous plant.

Western Outdoor News thought it was timely to talk with Paul Cacciatori, master dog trainer and owner of Starlight Kennels (951-743-2476) based in Norco. While not a vet, Cacciatori has spent years training gun dogs in Riverside County fields and at many West Coast dog trials.

“I believe the best thing a gun dog owner can do to avoid having to deal with a foxtail problem is to check out the area where one plans on running a dog. If there are lots of dry foxtails around, move to another area that doesn’t have any. There are some fallow wheat fields and wild grass areas around that are not infested with foxtails,” said Cacciatori.

Cacciatori went on to add the following, “I always have some olive oil and syringe in my truck to use in case one of the dogs I am training shows signs that it has got a foxtail up its nose. ( Editor’s note: Gun dogs hunt mostly by their nose and when they are on the scent of a bird, that nose is going full blast inhaling everything around). You know that a dog has a foxtail problem quickly, as that dog will start sneezing. At that time, I take the dog to the truck, fill a syringe with olive oil and put all the oil in the dog’s nose. The olive oil does not hurt the dog, but it does cause the dog to start swallowing and this action normally gets the foxtail out of the dangerous area of the head. It’s is not a cure-all, but at least is a good way of treating foxtails while out in the field. Also, after you are done working your dog, check between the dog’s toes and other areas to physically remove foxtails. It has been my experience that it’s pretty easy to spot foxtails on black Labs, but very difficult to see dry foxtails on yellow Labs, Chessies and Golden Retrievers.”

Once a foxtail has entered the body of any animal, it can move along in a blood vessel and fester anywhere. Many a vet has tried to locate a foxtail, but have found during surgery that the foxtail has moved to another spot; thus, often calling for numerous incisions to find it.

Not only are foxtails a problem with gun dogs and other pets, they can also be very harmful to most all big game animals, especially young wild hogs. Based on field reports from some hog guides, they have witnessed little piglets that appeared to be blinded by foxtails that have entered in the eye or a nose region due to how low to the ground these little critters have to run until they grow up a little.

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