Camp Harmony Dogs

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5 Tips on Keeping Your Dog’s Ears Foxtail and Infection Free

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foxtailIt’s foxtail season – and if you live in California you already know that the drought has made foxtail fields out of most of our dog parks. On top of that, fleas and ticks are off the chart. It’s more important than ever to check your dog’s ears and keep them clean, particularly if they have floppy ears.  

Don’t know what foxtails are? They are the seeds from wild barley grass, native to California but can be found across the United States. They have a nasty habit of lodging themselves into your dog’s skin, ears and nasal passage, causing infection. The seeds have barbs which cause them to migrate away from the point of entry. When left unchecked, this can lead to blood infections, limb amputations and even death. Dogs who eat them can aspirate on them. They routinely find their way into dogs’ ears, eyes, throats, open wounds, anuses, vaginas and penile sheaths. Foxtails pose a serious risk to your dog.

Here are 5 tips on how to remain fox-tail and ear infection free this season:

  1. Keep dog hair short. If your dog has hair rather than fur (hair grows rather than sheds and needs to be cut regularly) then make sure to have your dog groomed regularly and keep the coat cut short during dry months. A short coat is easier to inspect and provides a less velcro-like effect for foxtails and stickers of all sorts. Be sure your groomer pulls the inner hair out of your dog’s ears during grooming and even though those long poodle ears look so pretty, keep the outer ear hair cut short as well. Inner ear hair is a major culprit in ear infections and provides the perfect environment for a foxtail to become lodged in the ear canal. Both ear infections and foxtails can rupture your dog’s eardrum and cause more serious issues. 
  2. Inspect after exercise. Inspect your dog after every dog walk or exercise session away from home (as well as at home if foxtails are an issue there). The best way to stay on top of foxtails is to make sure they aren’t given the opportunity to reach your dog’s skin. This goes for ticks as well. Do an inspection of your dog, looking between toes and pads, in ears, around genitals and through coat before loading them into the car or as soon as you arrive home.
  3. Inspect ears weekly. Check your dog’s ears weekly by examining the ear flap and canal. If you see wax or notice a mild odor, clean the ear thoroughly with an ear wash that breaks up ear wax – like Oti-Calm. Ear wax buildup can cause ear infections and provides another optimum environment for foxtails. It’s simple: squirt the product in the canal, put the flap down and squish it around while gently massaging the ear. Then wipe the canal and folds out with a cotton pad or tissue. If you see redness around the canal or black wax, you likely already have a problem and should visit your vet. Ear wax that smells yeasty or intensely stinky is likely harboring abnormal levels of yeast or bacteria and will likely need to be treated.
  4. Notice your dog’s behavior. If your dog is shaking his head or seems to be scratching tentatively at one ear, check it out immediately. Inspect the ear and ear flap thoroughly. Use an ear wash to clean the ear out. If your dog is showing signs of an infection (head tilting, head shaking, pawing at ear, rubbing ear on floor, whining or crying when scratching ear), take him to the vet. If your dog suddenly won’t stop sneezing or coughing, it may be a foxtail. Have it checked out immediately.
  5. Stay away from foxtails. Ok, this sounds obvious and also difficult for many. But if you have a choice between a park that is inundated with foxtails and another that isn’t, choose the place that isn’t. The less exposure, the less risk to your dog.

Bonus Tip: If your dog is prone to ear infections, he may have an overriding systemic yeast infection. Treating the ears is important but you also need to treat systemically. See our article Red Yeast Rescue on how.