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Keeping your dogs safe from harmful plants and foxtails in your garden

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Q. What kind of plants do I have to keep my dogs away from? I like to walk them in a field close to my home, but now there’s a lot of weeds and I don’t want them eating anything harmful.

My dogs really love dragging me through the field across the street. If I look away for just a moment, they will find something absolutely disgusting to check out. It’s usually a discarded half-eaten burrito or a well-aged dead squirrel. Now the spring weed crop has appeared, bringing a whole new set of hazards.

Most poisonous plants are bad tasting, but that is not necessarily a deterrent for most dogs. Some of the most poisonous plants are ornamentals. Sago palm, foxglove, oleander, English ivy, yew, cyclamen, castor bean, amaryllis, azalea, chinaberry, and wisteria are some of the more common poisonous landscape plants grown in California.

Wild plants (weeds) to avoid are jimsonweed (Datura), mistletoe, milkweed, pokeweed, hemlock, and nightshade. This is not an all-inclusive list, but these are some of the more common weeds in California.

Since dogs can eat so quickly (and stealthily), it’s important to recognize the symptoms of poisoning as well. Lethargy, excessive drooling, labored breathing, loss of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, tremors, hyperactivity, bleeding, unusual substances in the stool, or other behavioral changes can be symptoms of poisoning and should be checked out by your veterinarian right away.

Foxtails are another hazard for dogs. These grassy weeds produce seed heads that are designed to stick fast to the fur of passing animals so they can spread and make more weeds. The sticky part of their seeds has backward-facing barbs, which enables them to burrow through fur and into the skin. Their seed heads look like fuzzy little fox tails, unlike wheat grass which has coarser awns (or bristles). They are found in wild areas including open fields, hiking trails, meadows, and any place where grass is allowed to grow wild.

If not promptly removed, foxtails can burrow through the skin and into a dog’s body, even affecting the internal organs. They will most often attach in the ears, nose, between paw pads, eyes, eyelids, and inside the mouth.

Signs that your dog may have had an encounter with foxtails include limping, pawing at his face, sneezing or snorting, bloody nose, or excessive licking at one spot. You may find an unusual lump or tender area, draining, loss of appetite, or lethargy.

Sometimes foxtails can be removed with tweezers if they haven’t pierced the skin or lodged in a sensitive area. Check your dog every time he returns from being in a wild area. Walk on a short leash to limit wandering. If you find a foxtail that has worked its way into the skin, seed advice from your vet. If your dog has a long coat, consider a shorter summer cut.

Ideally, avoid walking in areas with tall, unkempt grass because if the foxtails aren’t bad enough, think of the rattlesnakes!


Los Angeles County

[email protected]; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/

Orange County

[email protected]; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/

Riverside County

[email protected]; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/

San Bernardino County

[email protected]; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu

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