As much as I hate foxtails, I have to admit that their design is nothing short of amazing. And besides, admiring them is much better than swearing when I'm gripping a comb and easing dozens of them out of my dogs' coats after they've run on the acreage behind our home.
Dried to a tawny gold by hot days, foxtails are now popping up. Their long, slender stems hold sticky seed carriers high, ready to catch a ride on a pant leg or a pet. The carrier itself is designed like a spike, with tiny hairs that keep the nettle burrowing forward through whatever is in the way.
There's no problem when the spike falls to the ground, where breezes help it to vibrate deep into the soil. But when a foxtail lands on an animal, all too often that burrowing trick is through flesh, and that can cause some severe problems. Foxtails dig deeply into every possible opening. Once in, they keep moving, sometimes causing significant damage. They can end up anywhere, and if left alone, they may need surgical attention. Dogs may sneeze at them, but you shouldn't; they can put your pet in danger.
This is the time of year when the grasses are dry and foxtails rule the day. Be aware of these problem areas:
-- Feet. Limping and licking are signs a foxtail has found a home, probably between your animal's toes.
-- Ears. Because of the burrowing nature of foxtails, every head shake drives the pest farther down into the ear. A pet with a foxtail in its ear may develop a chronic, foreign-body reaction and infection.
-- Nose. Because dogs like to sniff, foxtails often lodge in their noses. The signs are obvious: sneezing, sometimes violently, sometimes accompanied by bleeding or discharge. A foxtail in the nose will cause an infection and can even work its way into the lungs or spinal column.
The best way to deal with foxtails is through prevention. Steer clear of areas dense with foxtails, if you can. Keep the fur between your pet's toes trimmed, and go over your pet after every outing from head to toe, catching the foxtails before they get a chance to dig in.
Be aware that once a foxtail is imbedded, it isn't going away. If you suspect a foxtail is in your pet's ear or nose, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may still be able to grab the nettle before it can cause more trouble.
Sometimes there's just not enough room in a column for everything you want to say. That was the case with my recent column on breed-rescue groups. I neglected to mention that reputable breeders are part of the grassroots network dedicated to saving pets, because good breeders always take responsibility for the animals they bring into this world. A reputable breeder will take back any animal he or she breeds, no matter the age, no matter the problem.
My sheltie, Drew, was bred by my friend Tami, who also ran a local sheltie rescue group with me a few years ago. Although Tami has pulled many a sheltie out of shelters and placed those dogs in good new homes, she ended up looking for a new home for Drew because she bred him, and the home he was in didn't work out. Her co-breeder on that litter, a handler of champion show dogs, would have done the same. My misunderstanding as to Drew's history gives me an opportunity to note the contributions reputable breeders make when it comes to finding great new homes for pets who need them.
PETS ON THE WEB
With a house as full of pets as mine is, planning to leave some or all behind during a vacation can be quite an effort. Although I tend to trade vacation care with friends and neighbors, I have also used pet sitters and boarding kennels over the years, and been very happy with that arrangement as well. Referrals from friends and co-workers are a wonderful way to find the best of these businesses. But if your efforts turn up nothing, you can use the Web sites of two trade associations to help: Pet Sitters International (www.petsit.com) and the American Boarding Kennel Association (www.abka.com). Book as early as possible, especially for any holiday period.
With a parrot in the house again, I find myself spending a fair amount of time preparing meals with fresh, wholesome ingredients -- for the bird, of course! A parrot diet should be based on one of the good pelleted diets -- not seeds -- complemented by a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, pastas and more. I'm not much good in the kitchen, so I'm always looking for shortcuts. That's why I love not only frozen veggie mixes, but also the ready-to-use salad and slaw mixes found in the produce section of many grocery stores. Eddie's favorite: fresh chopped salsa mixes, especially of the tropical variety. Add a little bread or pasta, a garnish of seed and it's a meal!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We just got a 9-week-old female black Lab/Border collie mix from the SPCA. I know training is required, and I was thinking my husband -- who is great at this -- would be able to show me some pointers. Well, I realize that I am the one who is spending the most time with the puppy, and the training needs to come from me. I have no problem doing this, but my problem is that I am awful at dog training. We are completely in love with her and want to make a well-trained dog out of her.
We have a geriatric, well-trained 12-year-old Lab who is a calming influence on the puppy, but I need to do more. Do you know of any inexpensive training seminars I can go to with her to learn how to do this? I do not have a ton of money so cheap to free would be doable for me. -- B.D., via e-mail
A: The thing you need most to raise a puppy successfully is absolutely free -- a good attitude. Training should be fun, for both you and the puppy. If you keep this in mind, you'll do great!
Your best money will be spent on a puppy socialization class and a good reference book.
Puppy classes introduce the concepts of obedience in a gentle and fun way, with lots of food treats and other positive reinforcement. It's especially important for you to take such a class, so you can learn to train your puppy and also have access to someone who can expertly answer your questions. For a trainer referral, ask your veterinarian or check with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com).
You'll find lots of wonderful books on the market (and in your local library), but over the years I find myself most often recommending "How To Raise a Puppy You Can Live With," by Clarice Rutherford and David H. Neil (Alpine Publications, $12). What I really like about this book is its clear explanation of the various stages puppies go through and how to make the most of them.
Time for some freebies! The Web site of the Denver Dumb Friends League (www.ddfl.org) has an excellent collection of handouts on preventing and solving pet behavior problems. You'll also find lots of information in my column archives at www.spadafori.com, which go back to 1999.
Have fun with your puppy! She's a mix of two of the brightest and most eager-to-please breeds, so she ought to be a great dog to train.
Q: I've never been much of a cat person, but I'm trying to form a good relationship with my girlfriend's cat now that we're all living together. Winston has the "flippiest" tail, and I want to know what's up with that? He doesn't seem happy like a dog when his tail is wagging. -- B.W., via e-mail
A: Winston isn't really keen on you yet, if his tail is any guide. A cat's tail can be a warning of impending aggression, those "out of the blue" attacks by a cat who wants to be left alone.
If a cat's becoming agitated, he'll whip his tail from side to side. If he's doing this while you're petting him, take the first tail twitch as a sign to stop. Short sessions up to the point of the tail twitch will build his tolerance for you (a few choice treats won't hurt, either).
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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