Foxtails are arriving…minimize your pet’s risk!

0 Comments Posted by irving in Health Topics, IPH News on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012.

With the arrival of warm weather comes one of the canine’s (and sometimes feline’s) worst summer foes:  the foxtail.  Foxtails are sadly one of the reasons why spring and summer months at Irving Pet Hospital are so busy.  Animals are often presented to us with symptoms such as sneezing, head shaking, squinting or limping – all of which could be symptoms of a pet being affected by a foxtail in its body.  Before you go hiding in your house thinking that foxtails have invaded the streets of San Francisco, take a moment to learn about what a foxtail is, and find out why this seemingly harmless plant can be a hazard to your pet.

What is a foxtail?

Foxtails are grass awns, or seeds, that are especially prevalent in the Western United States.  These seeds form bushy spikes that resemble the tail of a fox, which allows the foxtail to easily cling onto animals.  At first glance, they almost resemble wheat grass in appearance. These plants generally sprout up in spring, and are often found along the edges of grass lawns or wild fields.  The sad truth is that as long as your pet goes outside, it is almost impossible to eliminate all chances that your pet will come across a foxtail.  Foxtails are very light in weight and can easily be carried by wind so they can practically be found anywhere outside.

Why should pet owners worry?

As the weather warms, foxtail plants dry out and the pointy seed pods begin to scatter. These seeds have one-way barbs that allow the seed to work its way into an animal’s skin, coat and mucous membranes, but not work its way back out.  This irritating physical quality almost makes it impossible for the seed to detach from an animal’s skin once it penetrates the surface.  Foxtail weeds also shed tiny black seeds which can also work their way into the animal’s coat and skin and cause irritation.

We often find foxtails between the toes (most common), in the nose (also very common), and in eyes, ears, mouth and basically everywhere else on the body.  Animals with long hair coats are at a greater risk.  Once a foxtail enters the body, it can even work its way through into the interior body cavity such as lungs and abdomen, causing very serious infections as they migrate through and get lodged in body tissues.  If left unattended, a tiny foxtail in the skin can cause a baseball-sized abscess, requiring surgical removal that can sometimes almost be as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack!


Foxtails removed from nose

Sore on foot from a foxtail track

Signs to look for

Some of the common symptoms seen in pets that are affected by foxtails are

  • Excessive licking of a specific area on the body
  • Swelling between the toes or on other parts of the body
  • Drainage
  • Pawing at the nose or muzzle
  • Head shaking
  • Sneezing (especially if nasal discharge is bloody)
  • Squinting (foxtail hidden beneath the upper or lower eyelid)

*If you notice any of the above signs, call us to consult with a medical staff member immediately.  Finding and removing a foxtail before it can embed and cause an infection will save a lot of trouble.  These grass seeds will rarely fall out on their own so the problem tends to worsen the longer you wait.


Removing a foxtail can be very difficult and painful for an animal and should therefore be performed by a veterinarian.  A doctor will often provide the animal with an analgesic and/or sedative to minimize their discomfort. An antibiotic may also be prescribed to treat or prevent infection.

Preventative measures

Keep areas outside your house where your pet has access to free of weeds, and keep pets away from dry grassy fields or roadsides when you take them out for walks.   Since it’s almost impossible to have complete control over what your pet will come across when they are outside, it is also extremely helpful to conduct a full body inspection for foxtails after every walk.  Concentrate on areas between the toes, in and around the ears, armpits and groin.  Keeping your pet’s coat clean and well groomed will decrease the chances of seeds accumulating. Clipping the hair between paw pads in dogs will also greatly reduce the potential for clinging foxtails and allow easier screening.

Part of being a responsible pet owner is to pay close attention to your pet on a regular basis. They don’t know what is good and bad for them so it’s up to you as an owner to be educated and aware.  If you are ever in doubt that your pet may be a victim of a foxtail, don’t hesitate to call us and speak with a medical staff member.  Although foxtails can be a hazard to animals, taking proper precautions and paying close attention to your pet will greatly reduce the chances of it causing any problems.  So go out there and enjoy the sun!  Don’t let the fear of foxtails keep you and your pet inside this summer!

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