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Many pet owners have been confronted with an unexpected veterinary visit in the spring and summer months after their dog has a run-in with “foxtails”. Common in our foothills, the head of this weed is designed to burrow into the ground when it falls off of the plant, but its sharp awns can also burrow into your pet if you are not careful. Here’s what to know about foxtails and your pet:

What Happens When Pet Meets Foxtails:

When a foxtail falls onto a pet’s fur, movement causes the plant to begin to vibrate down into the animal’s skin. It may continue to move into your pet’s body, and once embedded causes serious issues.  Once it enters the dog, it can end up pretty much anywhere. It is amazing how efficient they are at travelling through the body! Some of the more common problem sites include:

  • Paws – A foxtail that becomes lodged between the toes or paw pads can cause a painful abscess, causing limping and excessive licking at the area.

  • Eyes – As a pet is running through long grass, the seeds may be at eye level. Foxtails can contact the eye, damaging the cornea and possibly embedding themselves in the orbit of the eye.
  • Ears – A foxtail head that finds its way into an ear canal is often driven deeper as the pet shakes its head. Untreated, a dog with a foreign object such as this in the ear can develop an infection.

  • Nose – Because dogs often sniff the ground, foxtails frequently end up lodged in the nasal passages. This can cause sneezing, bleeding, or nasal discharge. If the foxtail is not removed, it may make its way to the lungs or even the spinal column.

How To Treat Foxtails:

Once a foxtail is embedded, it will never breakdown on its own and must be removed. This may require sedation or anesthesia depending on where the it has dug in. If there is infection associated with the awn, antibiotics are appropriate. If you find a foxtail that has already begun to burrow, it is important to have it removed before it migrates further.

How To Prevent Foxtails:

The best way to deal with foxtails is to try to avoid them altogether. With a little effort, you can keep your pet free of this weedy nuisance. Be sure to keep your dog’s coat trimmed, especially the fur between the toes. Also remember to thoroughly brush your pet and go over the common problem areas after you are out so that you can remove any foxtails before they can dig in.

Become familiar with what foxtails look like and try to avoid areas that are heavily overgrown with it. Likewise, be sure to control any foxtail growth on your property, too.

Any time your dog is scratching its ears, shaking its head, sneezing, drooling, licking an area, or is having any other unusual symptoms, it is important to get it checked out right away. The longer a foxtail is embedded, the more damage it can cause. Fortunately, this weed is only around for a few months a year, and with some extra attention you can avoid serious problems.