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Tips for Pet Owners

Foxtail is the common name for a number of grasses that grow wild along trails and hillsides here in Northern California. This annual grows green from January to May, turning dry during the late spring and summer months. The danger to dogs and other animals come from the barley-like grass seeds that grow at the top of the plant: sharp at one end, these seeds have microscopic barbs that enable them to work in an animalís fur or skin in one direction--that is, they go in, but they donít come out. The result is a nasty infection that can cause painful swelling that persists for weeks or even months. Affected areas commonly include the paws, ears, nostrils, throat and, less commonly, eyes. June, July and August are the worst months for foxtails, and we highly recommend checking your dog thoroughly after an outdoor summer romp... especially around the paw areas (between the toes) and in the ears.

Poison Oak

Itís the gift your dog gives you that keeps on giving. Although not a problem for pets (they have that protective fur, after all!), western poison oak (Rhus diversiloba) is a common plant that can make your life truly miserable. Related to eastern poison ivy (Rhus radicans) andpoison sumac (Rhus vernix), this plant has green or red oak-like leaves and covers the Pacific coast hillsides from early spring through summer. The nasty element of this creeper is the oily sap on its leaves that contains urushiol, an antigenic compound that causes moderate to severe dermatitis when it comes in contact with unprotected skin. Although itís simple enough to avoid touching these plants directly, the sap is easily transferred to dogsí fur when they run through the underbrush, and they, in turn, transfer it to you. Itching and rash usually develop within 24-48 hours, with severity depending on amount of sap contacted and individual susceptibility to the urushiol toxin. Although washing skin after exposure is of limited effectiveness, there are several products available that help minimize rash flare-up, especially if applied before symptoms (namely itching and small, red blisters) occur. Technu Oak Ní Ivy lotion and Burtís Bees Poison Ivy Soap can be found at your local drugstore. If itís too late for these products, we recommend topical Benadryl application or good old Calamine lotion. The best way to avoid suffering poison oakís miseries is to be mindful of your surroundings, and if you believe your dog has come in contact with the plant, wash him or her immediately after your hike, before they get in your car and transfer the stuff to your upholstery.