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What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Foxtails

foxtails

You’ve probably seen plenty of foxtails out in nature before; mostly growing in meadows, along roadsides, or in vacant lots, but you may not have known what they were.

Foxtails are simply foxtail-like seed clusters usually found on the stalks of some types of grasses. These clusters have sharp points that are designed to penetrate the soil the moment they come loose from the plant, enabling the seed to take hold in the ground and begin to grow roots.

foxtail2To make sure that seeds take root to the ground, the clusters contain barbs that make it hard for the cluster to come loose from the dirt once it begins to penetrate. The outside part of the cluster also harbors bacteria composed of enzymes that break down cellular matters; thus, helping the seed bury itself into the ground past the other plants.

Foxtails cause the most trouble for dogs during the late months of spring and summer seasons, typically in drier climates as this is the time when the seeds come loose from the plant and begin searching for a place to take root. You can find foxtails around the country, but they are most common in the western parts of the US. In fact, the largest occurrence of foxtails is in the state of California.

How Are Foxtails Dangerous to Dogs?

vetearIn nature’s sense, foxtails help for plant reseeding. For dogs, however, it creates a whole different set of issues. The moment a dog comes into contact with a loose cluster of foxtail, it can attach to his fur and start to move inward as he moves. The barbs found on the cluster will keep it from falling off the dog’s fur, and the bacterial enzymes will cause the animal’s hair and tissues to break down. Foxtails can work their way into the animal’s body just as how they do in the ground.

This results in a very sick pooch. The degree of his illness will depend on the area where the foxtail has tried to enter, as well as how much damage was done in the process. Foxtails normally enter the animal’s nasal passage, ears, eyes, mouth, and even in the lungs, alongside the backbone, and into the many other parts throughout the dog’s body.

A vet will have to locate the foxtail and get rid of it. If the foxtail has unluckily embedded past the reach of the forceps or tweezers, the pet would need to undergo surgery to take the culprit off his body.

Signs to Watch Out For:

You might want to consider that your dog has picked up a foxtail (1) in the nose if he suddenly sneezes, paws at his nose, and if you see that there is bleeding from his nostril; (2) in the ear/s if your pooch paws at his ear, tilts his head, shakes his head, cries, and or if he displays a stiff gait while walking; (3) in the eye if your pet squints, tears, and shows mucus discharge through his affected eye; and (4) in the mouth if he gags, retches, coughs, eats grass, stretches his neck, and swallows repeatedly.

If you believe that your pet has encountered a foxtail, you would need to immediately seek a veterinary assistance if you cannot successfully remove the foxtail yourself. It is very crucial that you act as quickly as you can since embedded foxtails can result to serious and worse, fatal infections.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Dan

    Apr 5, 2017 at 3:49 am

    I've lived my whole life in the West, from New Mexico to Alaska. We always had a dog, and most of the time more than one. Foxtails grew in several places I lived. Our dogs used to go with us on hikes and would get them in their fur. But they never caused any sort of problems except that we had to pull them out of their fur. I'm curious about the frequency of these problems mentioned here. How many dogs in a hundred are affected?

  2. Anna Sakila

    Mar 28, 2017 at 12:37 am

    This has been incredibly helpful. My dog has had what I thought were hotspots. I took him to the vet who immediately suggested an infection due to foxtails. The poor boy had an issue with one in his nose a while ago but luckily that was removed.

  3. Ros

    Jun 15, 2016 at 3:51 am

    Also known as Barley Grass

  4. Karen

    May 26, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I’ve used these hoodies 28th phenomenal success in protecting the head area: http://www.Foxtailfree.com.

  5. Sara

    Apr 27, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    I haven’t read 100% of the comments, but I’m shocked there is no mention of checking dogs’ feet. So many foxtail abscesses are between the toes – or at least start out there before they track up the leg.

  6. Ken

    Apr 20, 2016 at 10:21 am

    A lot of it can be prevented, at least in eyes, ears, throat and nose. We have used this for several years with good success. http://www.huntindawg.com/outfox-field-guard-4744.html

    • Nancy

      May 14, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      I went to your link and the website said the product was discontinued. I googled outfox field guard and got this link… http://www.outfoxfordogs.com Is this the same product you used? A netting for the dog’s face? Can your dog still grab and retrieve a ball/toy/duck through the netting?
      I just spent $400 at the vet to surgically remove a foxtail from our dogs anal gland. If a dog sits on a foxtail then this netting wouldn’t help. But I’d like to use it for our Black Lab who loves to fetch.We have been overrun with foxtails this year in the Central Valley of Calif. I just spent 2 days pulling the little devils out by the handfuls and there are still some left on the ground. Mulching may help these remaining ones. We usually use pre-emergent herbicide in Feb/March to prevent them from coming up but this year we didn’t. It is cheaper than a vet bill.

  7. PHIL

    Apr 19, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I grew up in an area where fox tails grew abundantly. Every household’s dogs ran loose in the green areas but I cannot remember a single occasion when somebody’s dog was troubled by foxtails. They stuck in our socks but that was about it.

  8. Janet clayton

    Jul 1, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Farah, I understand your predicament. My baby had surgeries when I couldn’t afford anything. So I got a credit card to charge the vet bills. I’m not an advocate for debt, but I knew I had to take care of her problems or lose her. That was all I needed to decide to get the card. I figured that since my vet requires paying in full or the dog stays at the vet, I’d pay in full with the card and the payments would be small and give me more time to pay. Plan B was going to be that I would borrow the money from anyone I knew. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that.

  9. Tiger

    Apr 1, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    My poor dog vino has a horrible tail and we don’t know what it is nor do we have the money to find our. He is just taking it all in with barely any pain but it looks bad. There is a huge swollen part of his tail and the fur that is deeply attached to his skin and the fur is breaking off. You can even see the holes the fur leaves. I’ve been trying to find out what it could be. Can I please have some advice?

  10. Donna

    Jul 14, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I just got home from the vet with one of my Bichons who had a foxtail under his eyelid . He seems to feel much better . But now he’s limping with his front paw . Back to the vet tomorrow to see if he has fox tails between his toes .

  11. pat

    Jun 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I have had a lab eat foxtails so they became lodged in her tonsils. My vet was able to remove them on two occasions without surgery. I rescued another dog with a foxtail which burrowed into her skin. It formed a sore which burst open. Since her owner wouldn’t get her medical help, I did. There was dead tissue around the opening which my vet clipped and stitched. Needless to say, she came home with me and is a very happy girl.

  12. Lorrraine Thomas

    May 31, 2014 at 1:03 am

    this evening we were outside with the long hair Chihuahua who did have a hair cut 2 months ago, so the hair is still fairly short. Lily got a foxtail in her ear and my son and I cut the hair around the inside of the ear to see if we could see anything in there. we can’t see a thing. she still shakes her head and will not let us near her for fear of us trying to see again. Of course it is Friday when all the bad things happen and no one is available till Monday. Our County is small and I had one dog die because of no vet close fast enough to help. I was wondering if I put sweet oil in her ear if it would soften the foxtail enough so when she shook here head it might be shook out. I will call the vet’s office in the morning but I doubt if they will be there for anything like this. I am hoping.

    • Debbie

      Jun 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

      I don’t think the oil will help, but you certainly could try. I had a little poodle once that got one under her upper eyelid. Of course, I could not get it out so I had to take her to the vet. A couple years ago, my older poodle got one in her ear and had to be sedated because it hurts them so much to try to pull it out. The barbs really stick them. Two days ago I had to take my little one in because I suspected that she had one in her ear. She was very lethargic, decreased appetite and cried when you touched her ears. Poodles have quite a lot of hair in their ears and that even makes it worse. The vet pulled the hair out and in her right ear, up against her ear drum were two foxtails. He even found some stuck in her skin that I hadn’t seen. He told me that once he had seen a foxtail that worked itself all the way into a dog’s liver.

  13. Sue

    May 12, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    We have a large foxtail problem with no way to control it so we try to get them mowed down before they make foxtails, but then we get little tiny ones which in my opinion are worse. they have short tails and are hard to see. Right now my dog has one between his toes. I should have been checking his feet when he comes in from outside. Now we will have to go to the vet. I bought boots for him but a dog in boots is rather hysterical. Anyway, my only solution is to check his feet every time he comes in till they are gone.

    • mandy brooks

      Jun 2, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      once foxtails enter an area such as the dogs paw, does it leave a red bump that looks like a sore?

      • Debbie

        Jun 5, 2014 at 7:14 am

        It does leave a red circle around where the base of the foxtail enters the skin.

        • Tina

          Jun 9, 2014 at 1:51 pm

          We took our dog in to the vet because he was licking the top of his paw to the point of taking the fur off. The vet shaved it and checked it out. There was a round red sore on it. He called it a hot spot and gave us some antibiotic cream to put on him. If that doesn’t work he said he would have to go on meds. Its not as red as before we do have to put a sock on it when we put the cream on. During the day I don’t have a sock on it and he seems to be leaving it alone.

  14. Brenda

    Sep 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    What’s the best way to diagnose foxtail inhalation or ingestion? My Saint Bernard mix rolls around a lot in our new yard, which I found out was covered in foxtails. She tends to be a yard snacker, so I’m worried she could have eaten on inhaled one or more. Do they show up on X-rays? The vet kind of poo-pooed my questions, so…. Thoughts? She’s lost 5lbs, won’t eat her kibble – we’ve resorted to wet food, drinks a lot, pees a lot. We’ve had a urinalysis and bloodtests done, and the only odd thing was a high calcium level.

    • Nelson

      Oct 7, 2013 at 1:44 am

      Brenda,
      Did you have any resolution with the potential foxtail your dog may have ingested?

      My lab has ingested several foxtails over the years and we might be facing the same issue again right now (haven’t gone to vet yet, but it doesn’t sound good).

      In the past, two foxtails have been dislodged from deep in her mouth (deeper than I could see). She had to be sedated by the vet and the vet went looking and found them quite deep down. Before going to the vet, she was coughing a little, eating tons of grass and vomiting a bit. The combo of eating lots of grass to induce vomit and the cough were the warning signs for us.

  15. Jaime

    Sep 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I know my 6 months old pup got a fox tail attached to her coat we got it out right after i seen it. But now shes got a lil bump on her. Been putting hot compress to try to get it to raise if can’t get it out with in the next day to the vet I must go. I really dislike foxtails.

  16. Misty MacNeill

    Jul 25, 2013 at 1:32 am

    My puppy has been on antibiotics for there weeks, had one surgery after getting foxttail in his paw. Unfortunately today, I noticed that paw red and swollen again…it’s back to the vet again. This has already cost me $800 and I’m afraid it won’t really improve with more surgery. Thoughts?

  17. Jiri

    Jul 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    What kind of dogs are affected? I have Malinois – parents and 3 month old dogs (had Great Pyrenees) – rolling in the grass full of foxtails and no problem – healthy dogs. They are not castrated, have healthy immunity, scratches are treated with EXTERNAL antibiotic cream. Seems that the above is another marketing of VERY expensive and often necessary vet business in the USA.

  18. Leanne

    Jul 1, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    One more common place for foxtails to work their way in to a dog’s body is between the toes, so be on the lookout for puncture wounds in the feet, followed by a sore or infected area above the entry point. Once under the skin, a foxtail can migrate several inches through the tissues before being discovered. This can result in some expensive–and usually, avoidable–vet bills.

    With respect to the foxtails themselves, preventing your pet from picking them up is key. The best way is to dig the weeds out as they appear, and doing this every spring (ask your neighbors to help by removing them from THEIR yards as well) will go a long way toward avoiding problems. If you have a lot near you that’s full of foxtails, check to see if your city’s code enforcement department can help get the weeds cut down. And if you have a long-haired dog, it’s helpful to keep ears and feet (especially between toes) closely trimmed, particularly during summer and fall.

  19. Carol

    Jun 29, 2013 at 4:42 am

    Wow. My dog is always on leash when he’s outside, since I don’t have a fenced yard, and I never permit him to go near clumps of grass that have gone to seed, so I’m not too worried about him. However, after reading this article, there will be no more hand weed-pulling for this gal without a good pair of sturdy garden gloves!

    Always wondered how wild grasses manage to get into my yard, and entrench themselves so tenaciously in my flower beds. I’ll be off to the garden store to get a pre-emergent weed killer this morning (don’t worry, I never let my dog in the flower beds!)

  20. Gordon

    Jun 14, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Our dog picked up a foxtail near her rib cage / stomach. An infection ensued, which was first noticed because she had a lot of swelling. We’ve had er on antibiotics for 6 months and so far, so good. About a week ago, the area where the foxtail entered swelled up into a large circular liquid filled mass. Over the last week, it has completely drained. My wife thinks our dog’s body worked the foxtail out. I’m not sure. We haven’t seen anything, but I’m not so sure we would. Would be interested in anyone’s thoughts. Thanks Gordon

    • Josie

      Apr 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      Not sure if you are still active on this post…..our dog is in dreadful shape with huge abdominal rib. area mass which the vet thinks is a foreign object likely a foxtail on a trajectory to who knows where.
      How is your dog now and was surgery ever required…….or how long was your pup on antibiotic and which antibiotic. Our dog is in lots of pain, eating but listless, and a usually energetic 2 yr old lab.
      would appreciate your insight.

  21. Alex

    Jun 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I am kinda scared now what if one is on me right now. Also i only take my dog to the vet if its sick hurt and if they send me a note to come in. I have not been there this whole year with my dog. I think i should take my dog at least 5 times this summer because that’s when it occurs most

  22. ANIMALAURA

    Jun 7, 2013 at 11:55 am

    OK… I’m going to give everyone a piece of good advice.
    I used to have a dairy goat farm… land… livestock… guard dogs.
    There is a product call “CUT HEAL” LIQUID WOUND CARE.
    It also comes in spray. It can be bought online or at most farm stores. This product heals wounds almost overnight. (yes, it smells funky) But, flies hate it, and that is a good thing. It heals from the inside out. Even deeeeep wounds! And that is a good thing. I stops infection and keeps infection from forming! I have even used it on humans (I’m a nurse) and they are amazed at how fast they improve. It also has a pain killing ingredient. So when I sprayed it on an badly injured goat, you could SEE the animal stop shaking and suddenly “relax”. No more pain! I used it on the back of a duck that was injured, flayed down to the bone. She had maggots in the wound. I cleaned the wound, and poured CUT HEAL on it… the maggots fell out dying… and the wound was healed in 3 days. A month later, the duck had feathers growing over the wound. This stuff is great!

    • Jennifer

      Sep 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Laura,

      Thanks for your information! My dog has a confirmed foxtail embedded in her groin area. She has to have surgery tomorrow to remove it and I’m reading your information and wondering if Cut Heal could help push out the foxtail instead? Have your goats gotten foxtails that were able to be healed using this stuff? It has great reviews online. It might be too late to use it for this time, but my little girl likes to stomp through everything, so in the future!

  23. Elisa

    May 25, 2013 at 5:07 am

    We didn’t maintain the yard and check the dog as often as we should have. One foxtail penetrated the dog’s flank, and as well as becoming a life-threatening injury to the dog, it cost us $2,000 in vet bills. We now mow the yard area, and dump the clippings, every week so any surviving foxtail plants never grow large enough to reproduce. The dog is also checked slowly and carefully from head to foot every single day.

    • Samantha

      Sep 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      Elisa, what was wrong with your dog? How did you know it was a fox tail? My dog has a lump growing under his armpit and the needle aspiration that the vet did came back inconclusive. Someone mentioned how it may be a fox tail. Any suggestions or things I should mention to my vet?

  24. Sheryl

    May 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    My puppy had foxtails work their way into both eardrums. It took 2 separate surgeries to get them all.

    • Farah

      Oct 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

      Hi,

      How much did each surgery cost to get the foxtail out of your dog’s ear drum? I don’t know if my dog has a foxtail in there. Vet thought she saw a foxtail lodged in his mid ear. After anesthetizing him, whatever she saw was too deep for her to get too. She now wonders if it was just his own hair she saw. He has a ruptured ear drum and he is now being treated for an ear infection, but vet was unable to even test for that b/c the guck in his ear was too deep in for her to get too.

      Vet told me if he isn’t better after these antibiotics, then I have to get him a CT or video otoscopy to see whether or not there is even a foxtail in there.

      I’m afraid of the potential cost this is going to come out too. CT scans are in the $1000 range. Not to mention what I already spent having him checked out for this. And, surgery? I spent $4,000 on him 2 yrs ago b/c he had a torn ACL and there were a couple of complications that went with it, which required a couple of minor surgeries.

      Any any any advice would greatly be appreciated. I want to mourn for whatever pain he is in, but now I can’t even do that w/o crying for the loss of money which I don’t have.

  25. Nancy Dahood

    May 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    hmmmmmmm just more stuff to worry about living in the woods

  26. Mindy Gardner

    May 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Foxtail is very nasty stuff. While pulling weeds I got a piece of foxtail in my finger, thought that I had gotten it all out but, I didn’t. Got infected, and I had surgery. thought it was over with but not so. Got abcesses and had another surgery, almost lost my finger but it finally healed. I HATE FOXTAIL !!!

    • Barbara Stuart

      May 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks Mindy. I really appreciate your personal reality check. What a horrendous experience for you. This was something I wasn’t aware of. Looks like all species need to look out for Foxtail. I really feel for the wild animals who have no helpful humans there for them.

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