Foxtails are a common sight in Ramona fields, hillsides, vacant lots, and many backyards in the months from March to August, yet nothing is potentially as deadly to your dog or cat, or as hard to eliminate. The name “foxtail” is given to several types of grasses with hard seed-bearing structures with sharp pointed ends and microscopic barbs.
The grasses become dangerous as the seed head dries. These can enter an animal’s body through any opening and can even be inhaled. The seed head of a foxtail can even burrow through the skin into his or her body, and once embedded, the seed always moved forward. Inside the body, they—and the bacteria embedded with in—can travel long distances, spreading dangerous infections. Foxtails also cause problems when they get between the toes and burrow into the feet. Because it won’t show up on an x-ray, it is hard to find an embedded foxtail, so surgical removal is not always successful.
It’s easy to overlook foxtails on a pet because the damaging structures are so small, but it is the most common foreign body removed by veterinarians. If the dog has been outside during foxtail season (especially late spring and summer), check the coat, ears and between the toes regularly. Don’t count on any foxtail to come out on its own.
Your dog or cat needs medical help if foxtails gets embedded in the following areas:
If your pet is sneezing or pawing at his nose, check for a foxtail (although it is unlikely you will see it). Sometimes an animal will exhibit bleeding from the nostrils. The symptoms may disappear after a few hours, only to return intermittently. General anesthesia is required to search for and remove foxtails from the nose.
Foxtails can work their way into the ears, causing pain and sometimes infection. If your pet is tilting or shaking his head, check the ears immediately and remove any debris or excess wax. If your pet continues to paw at his ear, moves stiffly or cries with pain, an examination of the ear is needed.
Foxtails embedded in the dog’s or cat’s mouth and throat will cause a retching cough, gagging, salivation and possibly compulsive grass eating. If your pet stretches his neck to swallow, get immediate medical advice.
Tears and mucus discharge mean eye irritation. Check the your pet’s eyes for any signs of the cause. Foxtails can also cause squinting and swelling of the eyes and, if not removed quickly, can cause painful corneal ulcers.
There are some steps you can take to prevent foxtails from harming your pet:
- Get rid of any foxtails in the yard.
- Watch out for foxtails in areas that your dog is walked and, if found, leave the area and find a more dog-friendly place.
- Examine pets for foxtails often.
- Foxtail stickers are carried by the wind, so even if the yard is free of the grass, your pet is still vulnerable, especially in late spring and summer. Brush your pet and check for foxtails at the end of each day.
P.S. Cats can get foxtails as well!