Foxtails: Danger to Dogs!

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I’ve recently learned about a very dangerous weed called Foxtails. Harmless looking little things, the seeds on these grass-like plants can get imbedded into dogs’ skin and cause a whole lot of problems. Mainly found in the west coastal states, these things are everywhere. Know what they look like, and be aware: Keep Your Pups Away!!!!

What is a foxtail?
Foxtails are grass-like plants with foxtail-looking spikelets (the top, branched out part of the grass). These grasses, sometimes called  “spear grass”, are a type of diaspore (plants with a dispersal unit). They’re barbed seeds can be hazardous to dogs and other domestic animals. As summer grasses turn brown and dry up, these little guys easily fall apart and fall onto unsuspecting pooches.

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These are not as soft as they look. To get a good idea of how it might feel against your skin, very gently bring a finger along the opposite direction against the direction of the bristles – not a comfortable feeling.

Why is it dangerous?

Foxtails have a “callus” or hardened tip which contains retrorse barbs (pointing away from the tip), making them like fishing hooks or arrows – easy on, painful off. They are perfectly adapted to catch onto fur and very quickly make their way through the fur towards the skin. As the animal moves, the foxtail creeps inward as the barbs only allow it to move forward. Once it makes its way into the skin, it quickly becomes a very big (and very painful) problem. Foxtails will enter anywhere it can including ears, nostrils, privates, and even eyes, lodging itself in deeper and burrowing into soft tissues and organs where it can cause infection and a lot of pain.

How to get rid of foxtails
If caught early, when the foxtail is on the fur or the surface of the skin, it can usually be removed easily and will require no more than antibiotic ointment and/or bandaging. If allowed to move further into the animal, vets often have to perform surgery to remove it – but only after having to do a long process of simply finding it; these guys don’t show up on ultrasounds or x-rays and can be very difficult to locate. If allowed to remain even longer, foxtails can make their way through the ear drum potentially causing hearing loss, through the nostrils and into the brain, or even into the heart, which can be fatal.

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How to prevent foxtails

Foxtails are most commonly found west of the Mississippi, but are increasingly spotted to the east as well. Know what they look like. If your dog has been playing in long grass, inspect his feet (make sure to look between all of the pads), ears, mouth, eyes, nostrils, and run a comb through his fur. The longer the fur, the easier it is for them to get caught and the harder it is to locate them. If you notice a painful lump, investigate further and take him to the vet. Diligently being on the lookout for foxtails and keeping your pup away from them is the best way to prevent the major problems they can cause.

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Note: she did not come anywhere near the foxtails and I thoroughly looked her over after this little photo shoot.

Did my pup pick up a foxtail?
Look for these signs and see a vet:

1) Small, painful lumps on the dog’s body or paws
2) Excessive/sudden sneezing, bleeding from nostril or pawing at nose
3) Head shaking or tilting, pawing at the ear
4) Tears or mucus discharge through eye
5) Difficulty breathing, gagging, coughing, excessive swallowing, stretching his neck

The most important things you can to do protect your dog from foxtails is to keep him away from areas where they’re growing and regularly check him for seeds.

These buggers are all over Seattle (even in some off-leash areas) and now that I know what they look like, I’m keeping Devyn as far away as I possible can! Better be over-protective than to be paying big vet bills! I hope this helps; please spread the knowledge and continue to be informed!

Keep a look out in areas around telephone poles and anywhere weedy grasses grow - these are common places for dogs to relieve themselves!

Keep a look out in areas around telephone poles and anywhere weedy grasses grow – these are common places for dogs to relieve themselves!

Resources and Further Information:

The Bark – Protecting Your Dog Against Foxtails

Foxtails (diaspore)

Pets WebMD – Foxtails: Why They’re Dangerous For Dogs

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3 responses to “Foxtails: Danger to Dogs!

  1. LinZ: You guys have a beautiful corgi. I’m glad you kept the name Devyn, it so fits her. She really is a diva when it comes to “posing” for pictures. We could never quite get a pic of Rianna that did her justice. Of course the person who takes takes the pic has something to do with it. Good job LinZ!!

    Thanks for the info on Foxtails. It really sounds horrible. We don’t have them here but I remember playing with them when we went out west when I was young. I thought they were cool. So I know exactly what they are, hard to miss them. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

    Can’t wait to see you. Say hi to Jake and give Devyn a good scratching.

    LU M

  2. We will hope that Devyn heeds any warninings you may give her.
    “Romp and play you may, Miss Devyn, but from foxtails stay away!”

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