Pawderosa Pet Care Blog

Foxtails: How to Prevent Needlelike Grasses from Harming your Pet

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It’s that time of year again in California when the foxtails rear their heads and cause a whole lot of problems for our four-legged friends. 

Here’s a helpful FAQ to help you prepare for foxtail season and protect your dog from the needlelike grasses that can cause severe damage, sometimes even death. 


Q: What are Foxtails?

A: A foxtail is a spikelet or spikelet cluster of a grass that serves to disperse its seeds as a unit. The spikelets or spikelet clusters of foxtails are adapted for animal dispersal and so can become a health hazard for dogs and other domestic animals. Grasses with this feature can be found all around the country, but are most common in the Western United States with the greatest foxtail problem occurring in California.[Source:

Q: What makes foxtails such a threat to dogs? 


A: All foxtails have a hardened tip and barbs pointing backwards from the tip. Foxtails separate easily and the barbs allow the foxtail to cling to fur. Movement of the animal causes the foxtail to burrow deeper into the fur. Foxtails can also enter the nostrils and ear canals of many mammals. In all these cases, the foxtail can physically enter the body. Muscular movements (or air flow, in the case of nostrils) can cause the foxtails to continue to burrow through soft tissues and organs, causing infection and physical disruption, which in some cases can result in death.  



Q: How do I know if my dog has a foxtail? 


A: Signs are excessive sneezing (foxtail in nose), lump on skin that is painful to touch (paw or undercoat), violent shaking of head (foxtail in ear) or pawing at eye. Wherever the foxtail is located, once it’s in the dog it should be examined by a vet in order to make sure the entire object is removed. 

Q: What are some of the dangers to be aware of? 


A: The potentially most dangerous foxtails are found in areas easily missed: the armpit, between the toes, and in nostrils and ear canals. The first two should be routinely examined in longhaired dogs. Occasionally they can even lodge in the conjunctiva under the eyelid. In the latter three cases, dogs may exhibit symptomatic behavior, such as sneezing or pawing. Discharge from a secondary bacterial infection should be investigated as well. 



Foxtails imbedded in the nostrils can migrate into the nasal turbinates and in rare cases into the brain. Foxtails in the ear canal can puncture the eardrum and enter the middle ear, causing hearing loss. In both cases, detection and early removal is the best treatment.  




Q: How can I protect my dog? 


A: One of the best ways to protect your dog is to have them wear a mesh head covering such as the OutFox Field Guard. The black mesh is breathable and allows your dog to drink water through it, while at the same time, protecting the most sensitive parts of their head and face from getting foxtails imbedded.   



Image courtesy of antpkr / 


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