The Dangers of Foxtails for Dogs: What You Need to Know - karuna

The Dangers of Foxtails for Dogs: What You Need to Know

What Is a Foxtail? What Do Foxtails Look Like?

A foxtail is a type of seed-bearing grass awn that has a bushy, fox-like tail appearance. These seed pods are typically found on a variety of grasses and can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters in length.

Foxtails are usually brown or golden in color and have a sharp, pointed tip that allows them to easily penetrate the skin. They are most commonly found in areas with dry, arid climates, such as California and other western states.

The appearance of a foxtail can vary depending on the species of grass it comes from, but they generally have a long, slender shape with small, needle-like bristles or barbs along the sides. These bristles are designed to help the foxtail attach to animals or other objects for dispersal.

fox tail

Where Are Foxtails Found?

Foxtails can be found in many areas where wild grasses grow including:

  • Hiking trails
  • Parks
  • Flatlands
  • Meadows
  • Open grassy fields
  • Roadsides

They are most common in arid and semi-arid regions, such as the western United States, including California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Foxtails are often found in dry, open areas with sandy soil, such as fields and pastures. They are also commonly found along the edges of roads and highways, where they can be easily dispersed by passing vehicles.

While foxtails are most commonly associated with wild grasses, they can also be found in some cultivated grasses and crops, such as wheat and barley.

Why Are Foxtails Dangerous for Dogs?

foxtail dog

 Foxtails can attach to any part of your dog’s body and start the burrowing process. This commonly includes:

  • Eyes
  • Eyelids
  • Ears
  • Nostrils
  • Mouth
  • Spaces between the toes (in the paw pads)

Fox tails are a common sight in fields and meadows, but they can also pose a serious danger to dogs. These bushy, tail-like structures are actually clusters of seeds that are designed to disperse in the wind, but they can easily become lodged in a dog's fur, eyes, ears, or even nose, leading to discomfort, infections, and in some cases, serious medical complications.

The problem with fox tails is that they have sharp, pointed tips that can easily penetrate a dog's skin and cause irritation, swelling, and infection. If left untreated, these infections can spread to other parts of the body and cause more serious health problems, such as abscesses, pneumonia, or even sepsis.

Dogs are particularly vulnerable to fox tails because they love to explore and sniff around in fields and meadows, where these seeds are most commonly found. If a dog inhales or swallows a fox tail, it can get stuck in their throat or digestive tract, causing blockages or punctures that require immediate medical attention.

What Are the Signs That a Dog Has Foxtails on Them?

There are several signs that a dog may have foxtails on them, including:

  1. Limping or favoring a particular paw: If a foxtail has lodged in a dog's paw, they may begin to limp or avoid putting weight on the affected paw.
  2. Excessive licking or biting: If a dog has a foxtail embedded in their skin or fur, they may try to bite or lick the affected area to relieve the discomfort.
  3. Sneezing or coughing: If a foxtail has become lodged in a dog's nose or throat, they may begin to sneeze or cough frequently.
  4. Swelling or discharge: If a foxtail has caused an infection or abscess, the affected area may become swollen, red, and painful. There may also be discharge or pus.
  5. Redness or irritation: Foxtails can cause skin irritation, redness, and inflammation. The affected area may also feel hot to the touch.
  6. Shaking or scratching the head: If a foxtail has become lodged in a dog's ear canal, they may shake their head or scratch at their ear in an attempt to dislodge the foreign object
  7. Pawing at the face
  8. Bloody nose
  9. Snorting 

Other signs can show up one to several days later. These may include:

  • Lumps
  • Bumps
  • Draining tracts
  • Areas of redness or tenderness
  • Inflammation
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it's important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Foxtails can cause serious health problems if left untreated, and prompt treatment is essential for minimizing the risk of complications.

How to Remove Foxtails From a Dog

Removing foxtails from a dog can be a delicate and potentially dangerous process, as the sharp barbs on the seed pods can easily penetrate the skin and become embedded in the body. If you suspect that your dog has a foxtail on them, it's important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

If you are unable to immediately seek veterinary care, there are a few steps you can take to help remove a foxtail from your dog:

  1. Inspect your dog's fur and skin: Check your dog's ears, nose, eyes, paws, and skin for any signs of foxtails. Look for areas of redness, swelling, or discharge, which may indicate that a foxtail is embedded in the skin.
  2. Use tweezers or forceps: If you can see the foxtail and it is not embedded deeply, you may be able to gently remove it using tweezers or forceps. Grasp the foxtail as close to the skin as possible and pull it out in a straight line, taking care not to break off any parts of the seed pod.
  3. Flush the affected area: If a foxtail has become lodged deeply in the skin, you can try flushing the affected area with saline solution to help dislodge it. Use a syringe or dropper to carefully flush the area with saline, then try to gently remove the foxtail with tweezers or forceps.
  4. Do not use scissors or other sharp objects: Never attempt to cut or slice a foxtail out of your dog's skin, as this can cause serious injury and increase the risk of infection.

If you are unable to remove the foxtail on your own or if your dog is showing signs of pain or discomfort, it's important to seek veterinary care immediately. Your veterinarian can safely and effectively remove the foxtail and provide any necessary treatment for associated infections or complications.

How to Prevent Foxtails From Injuring Your Dog

Preventing foxtails from injuring your dog is an important part of keeping your pet safe, especially during foxtail season. Here are some tips to help prevent foxtail injuries:

  1. Avoid areas with tall grass: Foxtails are most commonly found in tall grasses and other weedy areas, so try to avoid walking your dog in these areas, especially during foxtail season.
  2. Keep your dog on a leash: Keeping your dog on a leash can help prevent them from running through areas with tall grasses or other potential foxtail hazards.
  3. Groom your dog regularly: Regular grooming can help keep your dog's fur and skin free of foxtails. Brush your dog's coat regularly to remove any foxtails that may have become lodged, especially around the ears, paws, and underbelly.
  4. Trim your dog's fur: Trimming your dog's fur, especially around the feet and ears, can help prevent foxtails from becoming embedded in the skin.
  5. Check your dog after outdoor activities: After your dog has been outside, be sure to check them thoroughly for foxtails. Pay close attention to areas such as the ears, paws, and underbelly, which are particularly susceptible to foxtail injuries.
  6. Consider protective clothing: If you frequently hike or walk your dog in areas with tall grasses, consider investing in protective clothing such as booties or a vest to help prevent foxtail injuries.

By following these tips, you can help protect your dog from foxtail injuries and ensure that they stay safe and healthy.

Back to blog