A Calgary councillor is warning dog owners to watch out for a dangerous weed that’s prevalent in fields across the city’s southeast.
Evan Spencer, councillor for Ward 12, says foxtail barley is a native plant in Alberta that thrives in disturbed and saline soil, especially when it doesn’t have a lot of competition. He said you can often spot the weed in empty fields and construction sites.
What makes foxtail dangerous to pets is its awn — the barbed seed head that can get stuck in a dog’s fur.
“Once it gets ingested or into the fur or, say, up a nasal cavity, it’s very difficult to get out,” Spencer said.
“It can be a really costly vet bill, and it also causes a lot of pain and a lot of suffering for the animals.”
The city is implementing measures to try to curb the spread of the dangerous weed. Spencer said the city is mowing certain areas filled with foxtail where pet owners often visit, such as Auburn Bay Dog Park. He said this time of year is a particularly good opportunity to mow foxtail as it breaks off the seed head, limiting the weed’s spread.
The city is also looking to plant micro clover in some areas to increase competition, according to Spencer.
How to protect your pup
Calgarian Marzena Dabrowski, the owner of two Italian corsos, said she supports the city mowing areas where foxtail grows.
“It’s actually a serious problem,” she said.
“One of my friend’s dogs actually got it in her nose cavity and ended up with a surgery, a very bad infection.”
To avoid foxtail, Dabrowski said she usually walks her dogs on freshly cut grass.
But as foxtail seeds start flying and spreading in the air, they can become difficult to avoid.
“Be careful when you take your pet out for a walk. Watch out for it,” Spencer said. “If they’re prone to go sniffing around, maybe look ahead to where they might go.”
Spencer also encourages dog owners to check their pet’s fur, paws and nose when they get home after a walk to make sure nothing is stuck in those areas.
“If they start coughing or sneezing, go to the vet right away,” he said.
“It would be wise to have a bit of a plan in terms of who here locally knows this issue in the veterinary community and can take care of it without breaking the bank.”
Foxtail “finds homes everywhere”
There have been talks of adding foxtail to the city’s list of noxious weeds, but the ability to combat its growth around the city may be limited, according to Spencer.
“Right now, we have a stretched thin parks department and community standards department,” Spencer said.
“If it ended up on the noxious weed list, we’re going to have phone calls to 311 of neighbours reporting neighbours that are growing this in the back alley.”
Spencer said responding to those calls is not something the city has capacity for, which is why it’s trying mitigation measures before going down the bylaw route.
Development companies have also contributed to preventing the spread of foxtail on their construction sites, Spencer said, such as by spraying pre-emergent to prevent the weed from growing.
“What we’re trying to do is kind of hold the development community’s feet to the fire, and they’ve been very responsive,” he said.
At the end of the day, Spencer said foxtail “finds homes everywhere.”
Whether the city’s actions are enough to curb the spread of the weed is yet to be seen.
“They ultimately want to make sure that long term that we kind of come to a place where we can live with a healthy relationship with this plant that’s native to this city.”