Dogs are the best, aren’t they? They are such innocent, happy little creatures who just want to explore the world around them and have a great time.
Unfortunately, the world around our dogs isn’t always totally safe.
And while we all want our dogs to hold on to that carefree energy that makes them, well, dogs, we also have an obligation as their human parents to protect them from any outside dangers we know about.
Most responsible pet owners know which precautionary steps to take to protect their dogs from outside dangers to help them stay as healthy and safe as possible.
From vaccines to protect your dog against dangers in lakes to routine doggy flu shots, and even to flea and tick preventatives, there are several things you and your veterinarian can do to help protect your pooch before he even steps out the door.
Unfortunately, canine vaccines, allergy medications, and flea collars can’t protect your dog from everything, and it will take you keeping a vigilant eye on your pup while out and about to protect him from one of the nastiest dog nemeses this side of the west.
That’s right, we’re talking about foxtails!
What Are Foxtails?
Foxtails go by many different names. Perhaps you’ve heard of cheatgrass, speargrass, grass seeds, and wild barley?
If so, you’ve heard of foxtails.
These nasty, spear-like weeds grow all over the United States but are believed to be most common in the western part of America.
Some people even suggest that California is the hub of foxtails, as this is where the plant seems to be most prevalent.
Like other weeds, foxtails can grow nearly anywhere there is gravel or dirt, but they are most common in fields, grasslands, roadsides, and hiking trails.
Foxtails are a common type of plant that can pose a danger to your dog or cat.
Because they are so common, they can sometimes be mistaken for other types of long grasses and weeds that grow in similar areas, and since they rarely pose a danger or nuisance to humans, we tend to overlook them.
However, foxtails are extremely dangerous to our four-legged friends.
Foxtails are quite common and can grow nearly anywhere in western states.
But why are foxtail plants so dangerous to our canine counterparts, and how can you help to keep your pet protected from them?
And most importantly, what should you do if you think your dog has gotten himself into a tangle with a foxtail plant?
We are here to help you out. Keep reading to learn all about the dangers of foxtails to your dog, how you can remove foxtails at home, and when it’s time to contact your veterinarian regarding foxtail injuries and infections.
Why Are Foxtails Dangerous for Dogs?
As we mentioned above, the foxtail plant is a very common type of weed that grows most commonly in the western states of the US.
Foxtail season tends to be from early spring to late summer when the plan is in full bloom.
And because they are a weed, foxtails can overpower fields, roadsides, and hiking trails in a most annoying, albeit effective, manner.
But foxtails are more than annoying. They can be downright dangerous when it comes to our beloved pets.
Your dog explores the world with his nose. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems when it comes to foxtails.
Dogs are especially susceptible to foxtail injuries and infections as their naturally curious nature can prompt them to explore the world with their mouths, noses, and paws.
And unfortunately, a dog’s mouth, nose, and paws are the most common places foxtail seeds like to bury themselves.
Foxtails can get easily lost in a dog’s fur and work their way into the skin. Perhaps the worst part about the foxtail plant is that, once they are in, they don’t come back out.
The seeds of the foxtail plant have barbs that make it easy for the plant to burrow further into the fur and skin, and nearly impossible to go back out again without human intervention.
Where Do Dogs Get Foxtails Embedded on Their Body?
Your dog can wind up with foxtails nearly anywhere on his body, from his belly to his back, to his armpits and face.
However, because of your dog’s curious nature and his knack for exploring with his nose, mouth, and paws, Foxtails tend to be most prevalent in those places.
Other places foxtails tend to burrow most commonly include your dog’s:
- Genital areas
A dog’s nose has deep canals and it’s easy for foxtail plants to break loose and get lodged inside his snout.
When checking your dog for sneaky foxtail seeds after a hike, walk, jog, or backyard adventure, I suggest doing a careful combover with your fingers or a comb.
Part your dog’s fur from nose to tail and feel around. Massage your dog’s ears, lift his lips and check his gums, and check thoroughly between his paws and each little toe.
Your dog’s paws are another easy target for those pesky foxtail plants.
Remember, foxtails have a way of burrowing into your dog’s fur and skin quickly, and it’s not uncommon for foxtails to lodge themselves deep into your dog’s skin before you can catch them on the surface.
So, what do you do if you suspect your dog is being affected by a Foxtail but can’t see the foxtail with your naked eye?
Watch for the symptoms.
Symptoms of A Foxtail Injury In Your Dog
- Redness of the inner ear
- Discharge in the inner ear
- Excessive shaking of the head
- Cocking of the head to one side
- Itching or pawing at the ear
- Whining or whimpering for no apparent reason
- Whining or whimpering or pulling away when you attempt to touch his head or ear
- Licking or chewing of the paw
- Swelling of the paw
- A red or infected looking bump between the toes or on the top of the paw or lower leg
- Red or irritated looking eye
- Swollen skin around the eye
- Pawing or itching of the eye
- Rubbing the eye on furniture, carpeting, etc
- Eye discharge
- Excessive sneezing
- Excessive coughing
- Discharge from the nose that may be pussy or bloody
- Sudden Bad breath
- Labored breathing
- Swollen gums
- Pawing at mouth
- Blood in gums
- Excessive licking of their private area
- May be blood or discomfort while urinating
The video below explains in detail how to look for foxtails in your dog and the symptoms to look for.
Pay attention – the veterinarian also discusses the dangers of foxtails and why it’s so important to check your dog daily after being outside.
Of course, just because your dog is exhibiting some of the symptoms described above does not automatically mean there is a foxtail plant hiding out somewhere embedded in his skin.
Limping, for example, could be a symptom of joint pain in your dog, while whimpering, incessant scratching, and paw chewing can be a sign of all kinds of other injuries.
Sneezing and coughing, eye redness and discharge from the nose can all be signs of seasonal allergies in your dog or even a cold or illness.
Still, if your dog is exhibiting these symptoms and the problem isn’t automatically clear to you, we always suggest that you contact your veterinarian to get to the bottom of the issue.
I Think My Dog May Have a Foxtail Embedded In His Skin! Now What?
Have you noticed one or more of the symptoms above and worry that your dog is suffering from a foxtail injury?
Luckily, there are times when you can catch that pesky foxtail before it becomes embedded too deeply in your dog’s skin and remove it.
Removal of a foxtail spear from your dog is easiest when it’s caught quickly and when the spear is embedded in your dog’s back, belly, gums, paws, or even the outside of the eye.
However, if you think your dog has gotten a foxtail plant embedded in his ear, nose, or genital area, you may not be able to use home remedies to remove it.
If your dog is continuously cocking his head to one side and whimpering when you touch that ear, you should take him to the vet to check for a foxtail.
Removing Foxtails From Your Dog at Home
If you’re lucky and you’ve caught the foxtail early, there are simple ways to remove the plant from your dog.
Try keeping your dog calm by offering him treats and praise, and if you have a large, skittish dog, you may opt to ask a trusted family member or friend for help.
Sometimes, for especially anxious dogs, a muzzle can be implemented to keep you and your dog safe.
To remove a foxtail from your dog, you will need
- A good pair of clean tweezers
- Antibacterial wipes or wound spray
For removal of foxtails you can easily see and get to, you may use a pair of clean tweezers.
Once you are sure you have safely removed the entire foxtail from your pet with your tweezers, make sure you clean the wound thoroughly to help avoid infection.
You should also make sure that you were able to get the entire foxtail out of your dog’s skin to ensure there is nothing left behind that can lead to infection later.
If your dog continues to paw and lick at an injured area, you may opt to put him in a recovery collar to keep him from making the wound worse before contacting your veterinarian to schedule a checkup.
When is it Time to See Your Veterinarian for Help Removing A Foxtail From Your Dog?
Foxtails can be extremely dangerous to your dog, and not to be all doom and gloom and everything, but in rare cases, foxtails can be deadly.
This is why we always suggest you contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has gotten into foxtails and you worry you may not have been able to extract these foxtail spikelets efficiently.
In the video below, Dr. Evlyn from Petsadena Animal Hospital in Pasadena, CA describes the dangers of Foxtails and how they can be harmful to your dog.
If you notice that your dog is in pain and you can’t determine why, it is certainly time to contact your veterinarian.
It may not always be easy to know if and when your dog has had contact with foxtails. Even the most diligent owners may not notice their dog has had a foxtail run-in until that foxtail is too deeply buried to get to.
Keep an eye out for signs of pain and infection in your dog, like whimpering, whining, and swollen lymph nodes, puss coming from the ear, nose, mouth, or paw, inflamed looking bumps on the skin, etc.
We should also note that in some cases, surgery is the only way to remove a deeply embedded foxtail from your dog.
If you thin your dog has a foxtail embedded anywhere in his body, don’t wait. Contact your veterinarian immediately.
How Else Can I Protect My Dog From Foxtails?
Whenever your dog comes in from the outside, try and do a routine check all over his body, starting with the most common areas foxtail spikes like to hide.
Of course, practicing proper hygiene methods with your dog can help to reduce his chances of an infection from a foxtail.
Sometimes, and as we mentioned above, dogs can get foxtails embedded in their gums.
If you routinely brush your dog’s teeth (which we totally suggest you do) try and keep an eye out for inflamed, bright red, or irritated looking gums.
And remember, foxtails aren’t the only dangerous plant to dogs. As a dog owner, I recommend brushing up on the local plants in your area and even the plants you may have planted in your garden, as it’s not uncommon for pets to unwittingly get into toxic plants.
Letting your dog roam freely in an open field or run around on a retractable leash is fun for your dog, and we don’t want you to become a helicopter dog parent and prevent your dog from living his best doggy life.
Still, we do recommend that you keep an eye on your dog and keep a lookout for foxtail plants, especially if your dog is running around freely in fields during foxtail season.
Last but not least, I always suggest keeping a doggy first aid kit on hand when out and about so that if your dog does find himself stuck with a foxtail spikelet, you are able to remove it immediately.
Has your dog ever gotten into foxtails? Let us know your experiences with foxtails and dogs in the comment section below.
Madison Guthrie (also known as Sonny Mackenzi) is a pet care specialist and positive-reinforcement trainer who works most closely with anxious and reactive dogs. Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, Madison developed a love for animals at an early age and spent most of her childhood outdoors rescuing stray pets and helping to rehabilitate injured wildlife. Along with animals, Madison also developed a love for writing and music. Over the past five years, she has worked to use her passions to help the pets and pet parents in her community build stronger bonds and live happier, healthier lives together. Currently, Madison lives in South Pasadena, California where she owns and operates Miss Madison LLC, a marketing company that focuses on helping privately owned veterinary establishments and pet care companies grow and thrive. She also works as a dog trainer at My Dog Spot, which is an award-winning pet care and training establishment in Pasadena, California.