Foxtail Safety with Dr. Joe Spoo

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Dr. Joe Spoo about foxtails and working dogs. 

Science Highlight: None

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:09

Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss detection, training, welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs.

Kayla Fratt  00:28

Today, I’m super excited to be talking to Dr. Joe Spoo, otherwise known as the Gun Dog Doc, all about foxtails. So if you haven’t heard of Dr. Spoo yet, he is a veterinarian of small animal medicine with a special passion for sporting dogs, and especially the gun dog breeds. He believes in a cradle to grave approach for managing the canine athlete over the course of its lifetime rather than just focusing on the problem of the moment. He’s board certified by the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehab, and is one of only a handful of such specialists in private practice in the world, and the only one whose primary focus is hunting dogs. So you can see already why we’re so excited to talk to him. We’re not hunting dogs, but have a lot of the same breeds, the same challenges coming up for us. So, to continue his bio, in addition to practice, Dr. Spoo also has numerous research publications to his credit, as he pushes to advance the field of veterinary medicine. In addition, he’s an invited speaker to national and state veterinary meetings as an expert on the subject of canine rehab and sports medicine. And for more than a quarter century, Dr. Spoo has been treating hunting dogs with all manners of injuries and conditions. And over that timeframe, he’s chased his own dogs including retrievers, setters and Spaniels, all over the Midwest in pursuit of birds and the very rare ribbon. So welcome to the podcast. Dr. Spoo, I’m so excited to talk to you.

Dr. Joe Spoo  01:46

Thanks for having me. Excited to be here as well.

Kayla Fratt  01:48

Yeah, so I think we’ll just start with the most basic what is a fox tail because we’re not actually talking about the part of a wild canid.

Dr. Joe Spoo  01:58

Sure. And I think probably right out of the gates is to not get tunnel vision on just foxtails too. So it’s, you know, the problems that they cause are caused by any of the plants or seeds that can migrate. And so you know, here where I’m at in South Dakota foxtails is a big one. But honestly, probably the most common problem causing plant that I see is Canada Rye. In hunting dogs, especially because it’s it’s commonly used in the seed planting mixes for CRP in food plots and it’s early growth cover. And so it’s in a lot of the seed mixes when we turn, you know, lands back into prairies or to habitat and so Canada Rye is a big one in this part of the country. I was just out in Montana a couple of weeks ago, and Needle and Thread is a big one out there. And so it’s yeah, it’s really any of the plants that have seeds that are barbed and can migrate once they get into the dogs. And so whether that’s, you know, ingestion, inhalation, or just in the coat and then migrating their way through the skin. So kind of being a, you know, amateur botanist, I guess is important when it comes to these, especially, you know, it’s going to be different wherever you’re at with your dogs. Yeah, understanding what plants can migrate, I think is the biggest first step with these.

Kayla Fratt  03:22

Yeah, that makes sense. And you’ve already jumped to my second question, which was are foxtails the only plant we’re worried about here? So the answer to that is, obviously no. Are there any parts of the country for the US where we don’t have any plants we need to worry about like this? Or is it really pretty much everywhere? There’s going to be something you’re worried about?

Dr. Joe Spoo  03:43

I think, yes, I think something and so but you know, by no stretch, am I a plant expert in in, you know, kind of the whole reason? You know, you’re interested in it, right? We run dogs in wild places, and this is something that happens. And so we want to know more. And that’s kind of where my interest is, as well as is, you know, having dealt with it in my own dogs and client dogs. So the actual plant side of it, I guess, you know, I have my myopic view of the world and that’s where it’s you know, foxtails and Canada Rye. I, I think everywhere though, you’re gonna have something that has the potential to cause these problems and I’ve had a dog you know, that prickly pear cactuses that might in up into her foot and things like that. And that’s not a barbed plant. So I think, you know, anything that these dogs can encounter can cause problems. If it gets on the inside of the body.

Kayla Fratt  04:36

Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. And yeah, I know, I’ve definitely been to areas where it’s a lot worse than others, but it never really seems like we’re serving in areas where we’re completely out of the woods, so to speak with you know, whether it’s foxtails or other kind of plant related injuries.

Kayla Fratt  04:54

And you know, as I think we said when I first reached out to you and I’ve said before on the podcast, but you know, the impetus for this was, you know, I was out doing surveys in central California, just north of Santa Barbara and we had a dog get a foxtail up his nose and had to go into the ER and get it taken out. So, you know, this is something that is now close to home for us. And I don’t think I had fully realized how serious inhalation in particular could be with foxtail. So maybe, or again, and we’ll maybe just, is there a better word, just plant seeds?

Dr. Joe Spoo  05:29

Since you’re fine saying foxtail as long as like we had that clarifying statement, right. I’ll be honest, that’s what I refer to it as foxtails all the time as well, because I think that’s the most common in all the plants, you know, I’ll say the Needle and Thread, I had never seen that in person, where it is seems like it’s more of a solo strand of thread with that needle. But most of like even Canada Rye has that same appearance as foxtails where it has a head with a seed head with the, you know, the fibrous attachments to it. So no, in you know, certain years, it’s, it’s worse to so you get damp area that then, you know, the water leaves and seems like the foxtails are everywhere in those environments. And there’s years in South Dakota where like, literally the roads are just lined with foxtails, and it just yeah, it just seems like death trap is how I view them, quite honestly.

Kayla Fratt  06:20

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s been one of the reasons whenever people ask us why we don’t use a couple key breeds in our line of work. One of the reasons that I’m now giving is coat type and kind of ability to maintain not just ticks, but also these plants seeds. So I’ve got a long coated Border Collie, and it’s so much harder with him, you know, I’ll be pulling plants out days later, that clearly so far haven’t migrated. But you know, it’s always, it’s always as a possibility that I’m gonna miss something, versus I’ve got a smooth corded Border Collie who, interestingly, he seems to pick up more because his code is coarser. Yeah, but they’re way easier to get out. Right. And they’re way easy to find.

Dr. Joe Spoo  07:02

It’s interesting, you know, at least in my experience, so get me to your point, the soft coated breed so, you know, my first experience was my own setter years ago in inner chest and kind of worst case scenario. So like the setters, the springers, you know, the soft coated breeds, but then on the the breed that I haven’t come up with a good explanation for that we see it a lot is German Shorthairs. And so I would say that’s one of the short coated breeds that we see pretty severe presentations of it, so why they’re more prone. I have zero idea.

Kayla Fratt  07:38

That’s fascinating. Yeah, they’ve got such a tight coat and like practically bald on the underside, that’s crazy.

Dr. Joe Spoo  07:45

Yeah, we’ll see an occasional Labrador, but obviously, like in my practice, Labradors are overrepresented. And in working dogs in general, Labradors are over represented. And, you know, it’s a rare case in Labradors, but the soft coated breeds and then German Shorthairs, for whatever reason.

Kayla Fratt  07:59

Yeah. Gosh, I mean, yeah, I’ve got all sorts of questions already about, like, I wonder if like that really dense, tight undercoat for labs? Or, who knows? Right? So I guess, why don’t we start out with then some amount of prevention. So I would assume that means knowing how to recognize these high risk areas, or the plants that are around are seeding times. And that’s just gonna amount to some amount of research. But beyond that, what else are we looking at?

Dr. Joe Spoo  08:26

Honestly, I hate to say that that’s it, but it truly is. And that’s, you know, there’s there’s places that I no longer hunt for that very reason. Back where I’m from in northwest Iowa, they had a huge addition of a lot of state ground added in, and they planted it all in Canada Rye, and I just, I don’t hunt there anymore. Same with foxtails, you know, it’s when I was running a Cocker, if we’d come upon a patch of foxtails, I’d just pick her up and carry her through it, you know. And now, like with the setters, will, will go around them. And so avoidance, I think is key, it’s not, you’re not going to be able to avoid them 100% of the time.

Dr. Joe Spoo  09:08

You know, there’s the different, you know, products that I’ve seen on the market, like the bags on the head. I have not used them; my worry, especially with working dogs is one, scenting and being able to interfere with the scenting. And then two, I think probably more importantly is like, that’s the way dogs dissipate heat the most is through panting and then we put a bucket over their head. And I just think that that could really, in working dogs, lead to a lot of heat related problems.

Dr. Joe Spoo  09:38

And then as you mentioned, I think the big thing is is is, you know, grooming when you get back to the truck in the sooner you get to them the better right? Because if you think about these things migrating, you know, you can get them when they’re out on the surface versus you know, if you know, as maybe you’ve experienced, you know, if you get back and you’re running behind, you put the dog in the truck and then that evening, you’re like, Oh, I forgot to do that. Those things can really be tight down, like at the end of the hair shafts, up against your skin, where you can tell that they’ve already done some degree of migration towards, you know, they’re not so they’re penetrating through the skin, but they certainly, you know, do kind of move through the hair, coat quicker than you’d think. And so yeah, you know, grooming as quickly as possible, especially if you know that you’ve been in an area that has these types of seeds, I think is probably the biggest thing too.

Kayla Fratt  10:33

Yeah, we definitely travel with like a full grooming kit. And I’ve got this really nice, double sided flea comb that’s got a wide tooth side and then a thin, like super tight flea comb on the other side. And that one works pretty well. But yeah, so much of it just seems to be alright, at the end of the day, like we’re checking paws, we’re checking ears, particularly I’ve noticed, like anywhere where the harness or the collar is touching as well, I seem to find a lot more that have gotten deeper there.

Dr. Joe Spoo  11:01


Heather Nootbaar  11:04

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Kayla Fratt  11:53

So I guess, why don’t we kind of go there as far as like, how bad can foxtails be? You know, this isn’t just like a scratch or, you know, a cactus that well, you just said that cactuses can also be pretty serious. But they’re worse than just like a little a little foreign in the in the foot.

Dr. Joe Spoo  12:15

Yeah, absolutely. And so I mean, it’s it depends on location, right? So they can migrate into the nail beds and where it is an irritation in range all the way up to truly life and death. And we see dogs, I would say at least yearly that passed away from migrating foreign bodies, and you know, the problem is it when it gets into the chest. And so if it caused a pyothorax, oftentimes, especially with these working breed dogs, they’re very stoic, right, and they’ll give it their all and one of the generalized symptoms is just not feeling well. So there’s not always you know, these dogs can have a chest full of fluid and not be coughing or exhibiting you know, crazy signs; they can just be off.

Dr. Joe Spoo  13:01

And it seems that oftentimes working dog people, because we are more in tune with our dogs, we don’t, you know, always run to the veterinarian at the first sign of just being off that sometimes it will cause people to, you know, observe. And I had a client, it’s been a couple of years. At our facility, we have kind of two buildings and he had come into the main side of the building, and by the time the staff came to get me in back, the dog was dead. And that morning, he wasn’t sure whether to even bring the dog in, because he was just acting off, you know. Post mortem, we took an x ray of the chest and like you couldn’t see any functional lung, he was completely full of fluid. So it’s it’s one you know, with with any of these working dogs that are in areas with migrating foreign bodies or foxtails, if they’re just a little off like I used to go on a witch hunt for these, and you know, making sure that we don’t have them in the chest in the abdomen. They could be in the musculature, too, and so if the dog  has a fever, any areas of swelling.

Dr. Joe Spoo  14:03

And so you know, that’s worst case scenario, it gets into the body cavity and can cause major problems. The other places that we’ll see the, and it sounds like as you experienced, is like in the nose, in the eyes and things like that. And so, you know, you have a dog that’s working out in the field and it can become, you know, you get dry conditions or this time of year, that where that transition into fall, where there’s still like some pollens and debris and things. You have a dog that will naturally sometimes sneeze and have some irritation. It’s differentiating, that kind of irritation sneeze from, Hey, I got something stuck up my nose sort of sneeze and so usually like with the foxtails it will be an aggressive you know, like you can just tell they’re trying to work something out of their nose. Once you quit working, the sneeze doesn’t go away. If you see a little bit of discharge and so you know as part of my after I get done working a dog, I always recommended tailgate exam, and you know one of the first areas I always look is in the nostrils because once in a while, you’ll see the tail end of one of these still not fully up in it, you know, and you can try to grab it and get it out of there.

Dr. Joe Spoo  15:11

The eyes is the other thing. And so I’ve had a number of dogs that you know that eye gets really red and irritated. And, you know, a lot of times you’ll see in the third eyelid, there’ll be seeds and just debris that dogs get, but the foxtails I’ve seen where they’ll kind of migrate or be back up, not in that that third eyelid, but you know, kind of like they’re trying to go behind the eyeball. And I’ve had it miss that, you know, emergency vets or on the weekends, because it’s just it’s not, this is one of those conditions that sometimes you have to like lead your veterinarian down the path that this might be a possibility because vets that aren’t dealing with working dogs in these conditions, like it’s just it’s not on our radar, it’s not something that we’re taught in school to, to be, you know, aware of, and so, you know, really saying, Hey, I think that there might be something up the nose in the eye and advocating for your dog. Sometimes it’s important.

Kayla Fratt  16:01

Yeah, definitely. So going back to when, when they enter the chest cavity. And again, that seems like you know, that can kill a dog. So that’s probably our top priority. Is that entering through the skin? Or is that migrating down from an orifice, or both?

Dr. Joe Spoo  16:17

I think both. So that to you know, obviously inhalation is is one way that they can get in there, right, they go into the airways, migrate out through the lungs, and then cause problems the other place. And again, there’s no there’s no studies. And so I hesitate to, you know, act like this is, but the one of the most common areas that we’ll see external evidence of these is on the dog’s chest wall as you go back kind of the high point of the ribs, not on the top, but on the side where those ribs kind of flare out and then kind of come back in before it transitions into the abdomen. That high point is a common common area. And if you think about if you’re looking at the dog, that’s the widest point of the dog is probably in most contact with cover as it’s going through. And so I do think that that’s an area that they can penetrate in. It’s right, you know, where the diaphragm hooks up. And so you have where that is the chest, the abdomen are all kind of in that same area under those ribs. And so my theory is, is that some enter the body that way too, right? Because that’s that’s where we’ll see oftentimes external evidence is right over that high point of the ribs on the side of the dog.

Kayla Fratt  17:28

Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, that kind of checks out. Yeah, and kind of again, circling back to prevention, we’ve done a little bit of stuff with those outfox head nets. And so far have been pretty happy with how the dogs work with them on, but the dogs don’t love them, or one of the dogs is fine, and the other dog, you know, he’ll wear it, tolerate it for a half hour and look like he doesn’t mind it at all, and then swipe it off when you’re not looking. That’s Barley, for our listeners, very on brand for him.

Kayla Fratt  17:58

So you know, we’re still working on that it’s but it seems like you know, it still only protects the head and you have to take it off to reward the dog. And, you know, it’s a little bit of a hassle. And what we ran into when Scotty got the foxtail in his nose is, we were working in sagebrush. And it just didn’t look like the highest risk area that we had been. So I had it in my bag, and I didn’t put it on him. And he got it up the nose. And what we saw was, yeah, really, really intense, hard, hard, hard, sneezing immediately, couldn’t see the foxtail you know, it was shining a light down his nose, and it was already gone, a little bit of bloody discharge. And yeah, there just wasn’t really anything that we were able to figure out how to do in the field to get it out.

Dr. Joe Spoo  18:40

Yeah, if you can’t see them, your, it’s what I tell people too, like, if you can see any sort of foreign material, whether it’s a foxtail, a stick, you know, you almost have to treat it like a game of operation. Because that tissue is so sensitive, because you’re going out with a hemostat or whatever you’re going to use, if you touch their nose, they’re going to jerk their head. And I prefer hemostats, because if you if you can get to that foreign material, you want to ratchet as soon as you get it, because even under full anesthesia, once you hit that foreign body, most dogs will react even completely under anesthesia. And so most of the time they pull the foreign body out; you ratchet, but then they jerk their head. And so if you’re able to see it, you probably have you know, one shot at grabbing it. And just again, pretend like it’s a kid playing operation and do not touch the edges of anything until you can snap it on the end of it because –

Kayla Fratt  19:37

Maybe I should get an operation game and practice. Yeah, the other thing that I’ve done some and I’m not sure how much this works, but I keep doing it anyway is we got Show Sheen which is like a horse mane and tail detangler and I sprayed the dog down with that, particularly again, the long haired Border Collie and it seems like that helps him just kind of shed them and they don’t stick on him at all. He also is very soft and shiny. But does that seem –

Dr. Joe Spoo  20:06

Does it have an oily residue? I’ve recommend it, but does it? Does it have like, do you have to bathe them then like when you get home or is it?

Kayla Fratt  20:13

No, no, it just it kind of. Yeah, it almost it feels a little funny when you touch them like the day, the day of, but it’s not greasy or oily or like a stain anything. They just kind of feel a little different. Yep. But yeah, I like that one so far. Again, it’s the sort of thing that like, we’re just doing and can’t say for sure if that’s the reason he hasn’t gotten one, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. And if nothing else that does make grooming afterwards easier. Yeah. So

Dr. Joe Spoo  20:40

Along those same lines, once in a while. So I used to have dogs that would get eye issues because of the stuff in the eye. And I would use a product called GenTeal Severe, which is an over the counter artificial tear. But the gel formulation sometimes if you use ointments, some of the ophthalmologists will think that they’ll actually collect more debris. And I felt like that that GenTeal Severe gel, provide it like a little extra same sort of thing. Like it was just an added barrier that that they could shed things out of the eyes a little bit easier as well.

Kayla Fratt  21:13

Cool. Yeah, I like that. Yeah, our dogs do work pretty well in those like RexSpecs goggles. And I, you know, I do like those, they didn’t seem to tolerate them a little bit better than the head nets. And it works for a wide variety of things. We’ve got the cool sunglasses ones. Sure. But yeah, so then as far as stuff that you would recommend kind of carrying in your bag, or in your truck to get anything out. It sounds like hemostats, anything else that you would recommend kind of keeping around for in the field removal attempt?

Dr. Joe Spoo  21:44

Yeah, so I use a ton of saline flush, and so just the eye saline. So like the contact aisle used to be all saline with a few cleaners. Now it’s all cleaners, and you have to search for the saline. And so I go through several bottles. So that’s what I use for a wound flush as well. So it’s multipurpose. But one of the places, like if I suspect a dog has something up the nose, and I can’t see it. Whether even just in bad scenting conditions, so if it’s a real dusty, or they just seem like they’re irritated, if you tip their head up and just gently drip that down the nose, so you don’t want to squirt it because then again, it’s sensitive tissue, they’re going to seem like they’re being waterboarded, or drowned initially. But it, basically it’s like a neti pot. And so you’re dripping until you see them swallow. And so you’re trying to flush any of that debris out through the sinuses back into their throat and have them swallow it.

Dr. Joe Spoo  22:38

So those are the two big things, like if I visually can see something, and I’d have a bright light too. So both with the eyes and with the nose, that cell phone lights just don’t cut it. I mean, there’s so much we do with the cell phones and the lights, you know, in the cameras are great on cell phones, but like doing an exam, that the lights just don’t cut it. So having an actual like pen light or like a surefire light, something very bright. The other thing too with the nose is that like almost immediately things turn. And so you know, if you’re going to have something up in that nose, that you’re very rarely going to see it. The one thing I’d say too, if you’re working in remote areas that you end up at a vet clinic, a lot of veterinarians feel that they need like fancy equipment scopes to see up the nose. And I would say 99.9% of these, I can get out with an otoscope and an alligator forceps. And so if you ended up in an emergency clinic out in the middle of nowhere, and they say oh, we don’t have scopes, suggest them using an otoscope. We have digital scopes at the clinic. And I’ll be honest, I never use them. I use otoscopes because I’m able to visualize the foxtail or the bit of material, and then use that alligator forceps to pull them out. So the dog does need to be sedated to do that, that’s not something we’re doing in the field. But I’ve had a number of people, you know, out in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota or Montana say, we went to a clinic but they didn’t have a fancy scope. And it really is something you can address without fancy equipment.

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Kayla Fratt  24:06

Yeah, they seem to get it out just fine with yeah, whatever they had on. And it was funny, you know, I walked into the emergency clinic and I was like, Hey, I think we’ve got a foxtail they’re like, get in line was one of those seasons. So good. Scott spent a good five hours at the emergency vet because of course you’re not at that point, the most pressing clients. So they had snacks it was it was fine.

Dr. Joe Spoo  24:29

Yeah, waits emergency clinics have really gotten out of hand in the last three years.

Kayla Fratt  24:35

Yeah, well, you know, it’s hard when you’re the one coming in with something like this, where you’re like, I know like my dog is not actively dying or bleeding out or anything. So, you know, I just brought books and I was like I’m gonna plan to be here a while.

Kayla Fratt  24:48

So, yeah, okay, so I love the saline tip. That was actually not one I’d heard before. When I was at working dogs for conservation. I had been told to carry a little, almost like a camping condiment tube sort of thing. Seeing with lube in it with kind of the same idea of getting lube up their nose and then seeing if they could expel it. But we were not successful at getting that up Scotty’s nose in the field, you know, we had two carnivore biologists plus me trying to get it up there. And he’s got some handling concerns in veterinary settings. So we tried a couple times that it was like, let’s, let’s just sedate him, like, this isn’t gonna help anyone. Right? So, yeah, I’m trying to think I mean, it sounds like everything else, you know, the hemostats. On the tweezers are things that people should have in their emergency kits. For a variety of things.

Dr. Joe Spoo  25:38

As far as you know, beyond just the foxtails emergency kits, I currently am, I do have a six episode free course on my website, building your first aid kit. And so I’m a big advocate of people building their own, there’s a lot of for purchase ones, then you have a bunch of stuff that you don’t know how or why or when to use it. So I put together a course that’s my recommendations for an in the field kit, both like at the truck and on your person out in the field. And it’s a free course. So at, you can sign up for that.

Kayla Fratt  26:16

will definitely link that that sounds I’m going to be taking it that sounds awesome.

Dr. Joe Spoo  26:20

Yeah, so the eventual plan is to then do a whole series on field emergency and first aid that that’s I’m hoping for a November launch with that. But yeah, we’ll just we will discuss foreign bodies and foxtails in that as well.

Kayla Fratt  26:33

Yeah, please do let us know about that we’re so between this foxtail, and then my other dog got two tick borne illnesses at once. We’ve been doing a whole series on, you know, all of the different things that can go wrong from, you know, snake bites to, you know, your slightly less emergency things. So we’ve talked a little bit about, you know, it sounds like the biggest symptom you’re going to have when you’re getting closer to that emergency threshold is, you know, a, if you saw something go in, or kind of saw some amount of symptoms in the field. Otherwise it just potentially going to be kind of the dog being off, lethargy, yeah, you mentioned temperature.

Dr. Joe Spoo  27:11

But the other thing you can have is that, like, if it doesn’t get into the body cavity, you’ll have a big swelling some place on the body. And so it will, it will look like an abscess. And I think that that’s the path that most veterinarians maybe get tripped up in treatment of these, is that they look like a simple abscess. They oftentimes don’t have the big fluid pocket though, when we look at them, like with ultrasound and things like that. They sometimes look like nasty tumors almost because they’re a lot of fibrous tissue, there’s small pockets of fluids within them. It will, you know, when they take their samples that have all the indications of infection, and so the big thing is, you know, again, talking with your veterinarian that hey, my dogs were out in the field, I think it might be a migrating plant on. Because what happens is, is that when a veterinarian sees infection, usually we choose like that one antibiotic, right, so most veterinarians who see a nasty infection are gonna throw a dog on baytril or clavamox. And what’s interesting with the bacteria that we see with migrating plants, it’s so I personally, like I like to cover my entire spectrum. So whether, you know, gram negatives, anaerobic, and then a broad spectrum antibiotic, and so sometimes a drug like Baytril isn’t going to get the actinomyces or the Nocardia, where something like a penicillin will and so it’s one that you know, making sure that the antibiotic selection is appropriate, if we’re not going to go into surgery.

Dr. Joe Spoo  27:47

So it’s one and we should probably back up. So some of these can be the big seed heads or you know, we’ve done surgery will take four or five seed heads, when the whole thing probably went up into a dog. Some of these even with like the migrating in the chest, it truly is a needle in the haystack, and you may not find them. And so sometimes we end up treating the dogs with a course of treatment prior to just jumping into surgery. Surgery isn’t always super rewarding. If we end up at surgery with these dogs, we treat them like cancer and it’s not just taking out the area that swollen. It’s taking out until you see normal tissue in so it takes an aggressive major surgery in particular, like the dogs that maybe have it on the side of their chest, where I was talking. We may end up taking two or three ribs out of some of those dogs. Like it’s it’s a major issue when you get to surgery with these guys. And so the big thing is kind of having that game plan, right?

Dr. Joe Spoo  28:35

So if the dogs not feeling well, having breathing issues, and we find that it’s in the chest or the abdomen, that’s one thing, but the other is going to be that dog that just has this pocket of infection. Sometimes it stays in an area and doesn’t necessarily migrate, but it becomes how do we treat that, and what’s the steps? I again, doing a combination of antibiotics to go after the organisms we most commonly see because the other problem is, is that those organisms aren’t the best to culture and so oftentimes seems like you can send in that infected material, but they don’t always readily grow in. So you might get an eye, some of the bacteria, but not all of them, not your culture samples. And so just kind of having that game plan.

Dr. Joe Spoo  30:12

I also, you know, used to be that we we’d advocate going into surgery right away with these dogs years ago. So it’s probably been almost 15 years ago, my own dog was the first major pyothorax case that I saw. And she had – so, to your point, knowing whether it happened in the field. We hunted in a field full of Canada Rye on Thanksgiving Day. And she was covered in seeds, I tried to groom them off, or all those sorts of things. And it was, I forget, it was January or February where she actually blew up with the infection. So it was months later that her body had probably kept it. Drained the abscess, treated her. And then there was just a small, probably large grape size mass between her ribs that I thought was residual. She’s a dog that had had really aggressive cancer earlier in her life. And so I went in surgically to take it off, and ended up between her ribs. And, at the time my partner in practice, I said, I can’t continue with the surgery, like you got to continue because we were heading towards her chest and I ran anesthesia, poked through the chest. We saved her. But it was it was probably one of the worst surgical experience that I’ve had, because it was my own dog.

Dr. Joe Spoo  31:24

And since that point, now all of these, I have a board certified surgeon cut because it’s you like she was a dog that, had we done it right, we probably would have taken two of her ribs. It was before we had a CT scanner, you know, in town. And so now, you know, now I do a CT of these, and we get a good idea of where the pocket is and stuff like that. So it’s it’s, it can present as a range, I guess is the point that I’d say it’s from being that worst case where it’s in the chest, the dogs going to potentially die, to this annoying infection that we just can’t get under control. And that’s, you know, doing what I do, I’ll see the dog that’s had surgery three or four times by the local veterinarian, because it’s just a small area that it looks like you should just be able to remove it, and then we do the CT and the board certified surgeon does his thing. And it ends up being this really major invasive surgery. And I’ll never forget, three years ago, we had a shorthair, same thing that the referring vet, who was a friend, had done surgery three times on the side of the dog, and it came back. So we sent it out, we did the CT and the surgeon ended up in the dog’s abdomen, back along its spine taking out its iliopsoas muscle. If you looked at the dog externally, you would have thought the infection in the seed would have been on the outside of the dog. So it’s, I take these very seriously, I guess I should say, and I don’t monkey around with them. And so, you know, if it seems like you’re not getting anywhere, or spinning your wheel with what seems like this simple infection, you definitely want to get into the hands of somebody that’s dealt with them or that will deal with them aggressively.

Kayla Fratt  33:00

Yeah, definitely. So it sounds like that next imaging step is CT. Yes. And then yeah, trying to get in with a board certified surgeon. Correct. Okay, that’s good to know,

Dr. Joe Spoo  33:11

The first step, if, you know, like regular veterinarians can do this procedure and totally did it for years. But it’s, it’s definitely, you want the aggressive person, not the person that’s going to be meticulous and do you know, a clean, you know, minimalistic job, this is something that if you’re gonna go after these, you really, you really want to go after them.

Kayla Fratt  33:37

So what what it kind of determines when you might just treat with antibiotics versus when it is kind of a surgical thing is that based on the location of the abscess, how it’s responding.

Dr. Joe Spoo  33:47

So a number of factors. So like here, where I’m at, our surgeon only comes every two weeks, right. And so there’s some of these dogs, that we can’t just let them sit for two weeks. And so where I’ve went down the path of treatment is, if he’s not going to be here for a while, we’ll start the antibiotics. And if the dog responds really well, then then I give the dog a chance, full antibiotic treatment, and we’ll usually go for four to six weeks, and then schedule coming off the antibiotics when he’s going to be back in that way. You know, the dogs been off for about three or four days, if the infection is coming back, then we go to CT and surgery, what I found is that probably 70 to 80% of the cases end up not going to surgery. And I think what probably happens in those is that the body you know, fighting the infection in the foreign material probably dissolves the plant pieces, at least to pieces enough that the body can clean it up.

Dr. Joe Spoo  34:45

And so for some of it, it’s it’s a time it the other thing I’d say is, you know if it’s if it’s been dealt with a bunch by somebody else, we’re going to proceed to surgery. And so there’s a couple of different factors just based on logistics. And then cost, right, like, you know, a CT and surgery is going to be way more expensive than antibiotics. And so there are people that financially, you know, need to explore that less expensive option. And so, you know, with a fairly decent success rate I, I’m okay now going the antibiotic route prior to jumping into surgery. And we’ve had it with dogs with the pyothorax, top, where people can’t, you know, either, again, we don’t have the surgeon here in a timely matter, or they can’t go on referral, where we’ll tap that dog’s chest, you know, for multiple days while we’re starting antibiotic treatment, usually in hospital, slow that fluid production down in the chest, get the antibiotics on board, and a lot of those dogs do okay, too. So I think it’s one that we, again, feel like these are, you know, cases that have to immediately go to a big referral center. And they don’t, I think you can step back and treat them appropriately. And try to manage them before you take that next step. If if that next step isn’t available for you, you know, if it’s something that, you know, you can or you have that sort of facility close by, I certainly would go that route, but not all of us live in a place that, you know, has all of the specialties in veterinary medicine, you know, right, right, in our backyard.

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Kayla Fratt  36:15

Yeah, I mean, especially, I would imagine, you know, the same places you’re hunting, and we’re out doing our surveys where, you know, there’s not a lot of people. Yeah, yeah, it was, you know, it was nice that Scotty was courteous enough to put a foxtail up his nose, on one of our projects, where we were only like an hour and a half from the nearest good emergency vet. And we could have gone down to Santa Barbara and had even more specialists if we wanted, you know, what about half half hour further, it was not a big deal versus, you know, we’ve done projects out in Guatemala where, you know, depending on what level of veterinarian you need, we were probably 10 to maybe even 18 hours away from them. You know, and it’s good to know that stuff like foxtails, you can generally wait, and or, you know, get in to whoever is there and then to kind of ratchet up versus something, you know, like a snake bite where it’s like, alright, we’re, you know, it doesn’t matter how long it takes us, we’re going directly to the top.

Dr. Joe Spoo  37:12


Kayla Fratt  37:14

So, I guess on that note, then so you said with your, your dog’s experience, it was what, like two ish, three ish months? Yeah. For it to really get serious?

Dr. Joe Spoo  37:27

Yeah, I’m pretty certain, because it was in in, like you said, when we started with the grooming, I like, after that hunt, I was like, Oh, my God, like, I groomed her for days, it felt like, like, I think I cut them all out. And so, again, do I know for 100% certainty, no, but it’s like, I’m very certain that it was that far apart. And we’ll see dogs all the time that way, where it’s that type of presentation, right? Where, you know, they don’t crop up until, you know, like, our hunting season here typically ends in January. And so it will be, you know, March sometimes. So it’s, it can be immediate, but a lot of dogs I think that the body kind of keeps it at bay for a certain period of time. And then it just loses the battle and infection takes off. So it’s not an always like, we had it happen today and tomorrow they’re sick. It’s there’s oftentimes, interval between these things blowing up.

Kayla Fratt  38:20

Yeah, that makes sense. If it seems like either it’s physical migration into something that’s really really problematic or infection blowing up. Both of those aren’t super duper fast moving processes, right.

Dr. Joe Spoo  38:32

Versus the nose, right? Like, that’s instinct, irritation. Like they’re like, holy crap, like, get it out.

Kayla Fratt  38:37

Yeah, yeah, I’ve actually I pulled out. So I still have the foxtail because I’ve been meaning to give it to his handler. It’s a huge one, you know, poor guy. We’ll have to put the picture of that up with with this episode. But yeah, like, I can’t imagine having that up my nose. And then continuing to try to use my nose for my job.

Dr. Joe Spoo  38:55

Yeah, I think I’ve probably posted on my account – that same setter. I pulled about a, I don’t know, three inch stick out of her nose. She hunted for a month with it up there. And so it was again before the days of CTS and all these sorts of things. And she had rammed – she’s bleeding out her nose. I tried to look up with the scope, was going to take her to Iowa State where they had CT and scope, and they said just put her on antibiotics for a month. She was fine. We were out west hunting, and I went to open her crate and she went into a sneezing fit and sneezed out a stick. On the third day of a hunt that she had pointed all kinds of birds. And it was up there for a month, and she hunted fine. It’s just crazy.

Kayla Fratt  39:40

Dogs are tough. It’s wild.

Dr. Joe Spoo  39:42

Yeah, compared to us? Like yes, you know, get your shoe and you have to stop and you know.

Kayla Fratt  39:48

Yeah, my border collie, Barley, who’s behind me right now – he got a foreign body that he swallowed and ended up with a mass in his stomach. And it was really interesting how that had progressed. You know, we’re now just kind of on foreign body chat, but he he had like a couple of days where he couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, like really, really serious pain. And that’s when we went into the ER. And then I can’t remember quite why but they couldn’t get him in for surgery for like, a month, and they give us some amount of treatment. But he, he had like a couple of days of really acute pain and then was basically fine for a month. And then when they did finally go in to get it taken out, whatever, whatever it had been, had been dissolved. That was just, it was just wild. Like he went from looking like he was going to die to then when we did finally take it out. I was like, so what was it? They were like, I don’t know, just got a bunch of really weird tissue. I might be misremembering some of the details there. But yeah, it was just really, really strange and kind of shocking how well he was able to recover kind of in between what a scene was like the day where it happened. And then the body kind of being able to wall it off. And it had pierced through like one of those U-bends in the intestine.

Dr. Joe Spoo  41:06

Really? Yeah, usually that is like, you need surgery right away situation.

Kayla Fratt  41:11

Yeah. And maybe I’m misremembering that he did get surgery really fast. But what I really remember is that a couple of weeks after the really serious event, we ran a skijor race. And I had asked for that, you know, is this fine? They’re like, yes, he’s gonna go on the podium at the race this time, you know, again, couldn’t walk or eat a couple weeks ago. Yeah, I’ll, I’ll double check my veterinary notes and add that to the show notes for whatever the actual progression was. But yeah, I don’t think I have any more questions on foxtails. So yeah, is there anything else that you want to be sure to say about foxtails or other foreign bodies, there?

Dr. Joe Spoo  41:51

So there’s a website called It was originally put out by the springer people, because springers are so associated with it. It’s an older site, but it does have good pictures and case studies of cool migrating foreign bodies. So it has all the different plants that we can see that caused this. And so that would be something to add probably to the show notes as well. They were active for a while in lobbying to that I think both the USDA level and there was some of these conservation organizations to try to get the seed mixes changed, so that we weren’t planting habitat. The problem is, is that, you know, the those organizations are more worried about habitat, and you know, wildlife management, conservation, they’re not really dog organizations, not that they hate dogs, but it’s just if we want plants to grow quickly, and these plants grow quick, quickly, but that’s a pretty good resource for identification, plant identification, and then they have some different case studies there.

Kayla Fratt  42:48

Yeah, I’ll definitely link that in the show notes along with your course. And yeah, I mean, that it makes sense. You know, they’re really focused on the ground cover and getting getting these places well taken care of, you know, I guess the dogs aren’t, aren’t the top of mind. But I actually, I googled that Canada Rye because that wasn’t a species I was familiar with. And that is the one that Niffler, my younger dog with the kind of rougher coat, but shorter coat, those are the ones I pull. It just sometimes it feels like millions out of him.

Dr. Joe Spoo  43:21

And that’s what my setter, when she had it, it was like, I felt like you couldn’t have covered her with more of them.

Kayla Fratt  43:27

Yeah, what I see with him as well as they tend to really, you know, it’s really seems like the hardest area, but also, especially in those like collarbone and shoulder divots, like it seems like maybe they work in under the harness, and then they get into these divots in his chest. And he’s a really bony, little intact male. So he just doesn’t, he’s got all sorts of nooks and crannies for stuff to hide, and it’s awful.

Kayla Fratt  43:52

So cool. Well, we’ll link all of that in the shownotes. And I really appreciate this. You know, again, I feel like I see the same couple graphics about foxtails go around every year and was kind of aware that they were bad, but didn’t really fully, fully grasp it. And you know, there’s that one really dramatic photo of the the dye from the foxtail that had gone up a paw pad and all the way up the leg. Which I feel like maybe over exaggerates like where these highest risk areas are and what the biggest problems are with foxtails. Like I really just didn’t have it in my head that they could kill a dog. Yeah, because that graphic is the most popular one.

Dr. Joe Spoo  44:35

Right. Yeah, we get to almost every fall. I’ll have one of the associates ask me like, how do you even hunt your dogs because they just spend all this time dealing with it. And it just feels like you’re putting it these dogs at great risk when they’re just seeing the dogs in the clinic. But it’s a big problem in the places that we run these dogs.

Kayla Fratt  44:54

Yeah, definitely. I mean, yeah, and especially from the veterinary side, if all they ever see is the dogs who do come in they don’t see all the dogs exact hunted that week that didn’t have a problem. So yeah. And you know, I would imagine a lot of people don’t groom their dogs necessarily thoroughly enough, if you’re not aware. You know, it’s really hard to do the level of grooming, if you didn’t know that this was a serious problem.

Dr. Joe Spoo  45:17

Yeah. And I think even like, I have trouble advocating, getting people to do the tailgate exam, to do you know, I think it’s just one of those things. It’s people think it ends when they walk out of the field and put the dog in the crate, not like that should be the beginning of taking care of that dog. You know, for all the work it just did for us. So yeah, it’s human nature. I think we think oh, we’re done. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt  45:39

Yeah, we’re tired, sunburned, windburned. Like, I’ll do it after the shower. And then next thing you know, you’re asleep on the couch. Yeah, well, cool. Yeah. Dr. Spoo, thank you so much. So again, people can find you at gundogdoc on social media. Where else do you want to be found?

Dr. Joe Spoo  45:59

Yeah, the website and probably, while I have it on all the channels, I’m probably most active on Instagram.

Kayla Fratt  46:06

 Okay. Great. Yeah, we’ll link all of that in the show notes. And we’ll definitely link that free course. And let us know when the full course comes out. We’ll definitely send that along to our listeners as well. So for everyone at home again, I’m sorry, we’re doing so many safety episodes back to back. I hope you still feel inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find the show notes we keep talking about, sign up for our Patreon learning clubs, sign up for our online handler course, all that good stuff at Until next time!