If you enjoy hiking with your dog, you may have seen these dangerous seeds lurking along your favorite trail, or maybe even in your own neighborhood. Green in the spring, these grass seeds dry up and become a pesky health hazard for your dog in the summer. Foxtails in dogs can create any number of injuries and infections depending upon where they enter. Prevent worse infection or life threatening conditions with these tips!
Identify and avoid foxtails on trails
You might first notice these pesky plants as green lush “weed”. They are a type of grass and can often look like a barley or wheat stalk. In the summer, these plants dry out and the seeds become dangerous. The dried seeds easily detach from the plant and are well known hitchhikers. You might find them stuck to your shoe, pants or other belongings.
When they are green these seeds are for the most part harmless and are not necessary to avoid with such diligence. However, once the seeds have begun to dry (even just a little) STAY AWAY! In the summer, it’s best to avoid narrow trails where foxtails might have been seen growing in the spring. Keep your dog away from edges of paths where wild bushes tend to grow and keep them on trails. Avoid off leash time in the summer to cut down and prevent risk of infect.
Check your dog after every hike
Do a thorough check on your dog to see if they might have picked up one of these pesky seeds. Common areas are ears, paws and underbelly. Frequent inspection allows you to remove foxtails before they can cause harm. Here is a quick guide to help you identify symptoms of foxtails in common areas on dogs.
Foxtail in your dog’s paw
Symptoms might include continual licking of the foot or pad, bumpy swelling between the toes, or a small hole. If you do notice an infection appearing in between your dog’s toes or toe pads, a trip to the vet is in order. The wound will need to be cleaned and often lanced to help create and exit for the awn. Soaking it in antiseptic water can help the abscess forming to pop and expel the seed, medical treatment is strongly recommended.
Foxtail in your dog’s ear
A foxtail in your dog’s ear can occur when a foxtail travels into the ear canal toward the drum. Symptoms include: head tilting or head shaking. If the foxtail has traveled far enough, loss of balance and falling over may also occur. Get help immediately if you suspect your dog has a foxtail in their ear. Long term hearing damage can be caused from damage to the eardrum.
Foxtail in your dog’s eye
Running through a field unprotected can leave your dog susceptible to getting a foxtail anywhere on their head. Getting a foxtail in their eye, however could lead to serious ulcers and even blindness. Signs your dog may have a foxtail in his eye: Squinting, discharge, an eye glued shut.
Foxtails in your dog’s nose
Your dog may have sniffed up more than he was bargaining for in a foxtail bush. Foxtails in your dog’s nose can travel and exit through their eyes, causing irreparable damage to both. Symptoms to look out for are: Violent, explosive, serial sneezing with potential for bloody discharge. If you think your dog may have a foxtail in their nose, go to your nearest Vet for immediately medical attention.
Finding & Removing Foxtails
Keep a brush in your car or dog walking bag. A slicker brush works best for this job as its fine dense teeth are designed for mat and undercoat removal. Foxtails become entangled in your dog’s fur making them not only hard to find but also difficult to remove. A slicker brush will help remove excess hair already shedding due to summer heat. This helps you locate and remove foxtails from their fur better. Furthermore, the fine teeth can capture a few foxtails of their own.
Once you’ve done a full check at home, if you suspect more foxtails or they are in sensitive areas, bring your dog to the vet. Removing foxtails in dogs before they become embedded will prevent dangerous infections, abscesses and more.
As with all things, prevention is key! Choose wider trails and keep your dog out of the brush to ensure a safe and healthy summer. And even when you are cautious, sometimes dogs still get them. So always do an after hike check and be prepared with tools to remove them if necessary.
This post was originally published on July 23, 2020 and updated on November 1, 2022.
Fitdog is a dog training and enrichment center located in Santa Monica, CA. Go to Fitdog.com to learn more.