Doggie Danger: Foxtails
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
This wasn't the blog post I set out to write, but I feel like it is very important right now, as many of us are starting to get out and about more with restrictions loosening and warmer weather on the way. With all of this increased activity, comes a potential danger to our four-legged friends...foxtails. You have probably seen this grass-like weed growing in fields, untended gardens (landscaping also took a break during COVID) and even cracks in sidewalks and driveways. In the early spring it is green and soft. (see photo below)
As the season progresses, the grass begins to dry out and starts to turn yellow with a spiky texture. This is when the plants starts to shed it sharp seeds with propulsive awns. It is a this point that the foxtail becomes dangerous to your dog.
These seeds, with their awns, attach to your dog when they brush the dried plant, seeds blow in the wind or they step on the many seeds that spread in the surrounding area. The awn's purpose is to propel the seed forward and help bury it in the ground to wait for winter. Unfortunately, the seed and its awns don't care that your dog is not soil, and it will do what it is made to do, bury deep. The seed is pushed forward with the awns trailing behind deep into your dog's body.
The foxtail can attach to your dog in several ways. Once it attaches, it starts to work its way into your dog's body. Here is a list of some of the common entry points and signs that your dog might have a foxtail attached to them.
Feet: Since the seeds spread across the ground it is very easy for your dog
to step on them and get them embedded in their paw. If you notice that
your dog is limping, there is swelling or your dog is licking their paws, you
need to check for foxtail seeds, especially in the fur between the pads. If possible
use tweezers to remove it.
Ears: These sneaky invaders can blow into your dog's ear or get attached
if they brush by a foxtail that has dried out. Signs of an invasion are head
shaking, head tilting to one side or excessive ear scratching. If you don't
see a foxtail on the outside of the ear, it might have already begun to
move inside of the ear canal. At this point, it is best to see a vet that can
take a closer look inside.
Eyes: Like with the ears, those seeds travel through the air. If you observe
any redness, swelling, discharge or pawing/rubbing their face, they may
have a foxtail lodged in their eye. It is best to seek veterinary care if you
suspect this is the case.
Nose: The seeds are easily inhaled into the nasal passages. Signs your
dog may have inhaled one are sneezing uncontrollably or discharge from
the nose. This is another case where it is best to seek help from a
Genitals: Foxtails can even get into the genital area especially dogs that
are low to the ground or have fur that sweeps the ground. If your dog
is licking their genitals with greater frequency (it helps to know your dog's
self love habits), they might have come in contact with a foxtail. Seek
veterinary care if you cannot see the seed for removal.
Photo from https://kirkwoodanimal.com/
These are just some of the ways that a foxtail can find an entry way into your dog. They can be ingested or just attach to the fur as well. The most important thing to know is that no matter how your dog encounters as foxtail, it is important for it to be removed as soon as possible. The seeds do not break down in the dog's body, so a seed that burrows into your dog can cause serious damage including infection (these intruders carry bacteria), difficulty breathing, abscesses and in worst case scenarios, death.
The best approach is obviously prevention. Here are a couple of things that you can do to help avoid having a foxtail seed attach to your dog.
-Be aware of your surrounding. Be on the lookout for these plants as you
are out walking with your dog. If you hike in areas where you might not be
able to see them, consider protective gear. Have your dog wear shoes and
a field guard. Outfox Field Guard protects your dogs face from foxtails
while allowing them to pant, see and drink.
-Check your dog if you think they have been exposed. Check your dog over
thoroughly and watch for any signs or exposure. Dogs with curly hair are
especially susceptible to having these seeds attach and the hair's texture
can make them more difficult to spot.
-Remove any foxtails in your yard. If you have foxtails in your yard, try to
remove them as soon as the grass appears and definitely before they dry
out. You must pull them out by the root. Don't use a string trimmer because it
will spread the seeds rather than remove them. Instead, use a mower with a
Here a few articles that offer more detail, veterinary advice and actual case examples.
Now that you have information on how to keep your dog safe during foxtail season, get out there and take a walk with your best friend.