Foxtails are common, difficult to avoid, and can be dangerous to your dog if left untreated. Foxtails can get into your dog's ears, paws, and nose, causing major problems. There are numerous things you can do to protect your dog against foxtails, and today, our San Mateo vets will explain.
What are Foxtails?
Foxtails refer to a variety of tall, swaying grasses with clusters of spiky, arrow-shaped hairs. The fluffy clump on top of the plant is made up of many small seeds, each with its barb. The seeds are carried by the wind to the ground, where the barb hooks into the earth.
Why Are They Harmful to Dogs?
The sharp, pointy tip has the potential to pierce your dog's skin, paw, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. When a dog eats a foxtail, it can perforate the bowel or create a severe infection that leads to an abscess. Both situations may necessitate emergency surgery.
How Can I Tell If My Dog Has a Foxtail Injury?
Because Foxtails can pierce almost anywhere on your dog's body, it's important to know how to spot a foxtail injury for different parts of the body:
In Their Paw
- Constant licking between the toes
- Swelling or discharge between the toes
In Their Ear
- Head shaking
- Pawing at the ear
- Head tilt
- Pain when head or ear is touched
- Redness and discharge from the ear
In Their Nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Discharge from the nose that may or may not be bloody
- Sudden onset of bad breath
In Their Eye
- Squinting/pawing at the eye
- Discharge from the eye: The discharge can be clear or slightly yellow or green, and rarely any blood
- Swelling around or in the eye
In Their Genitalia
- Excessive licking of genitals
- Blood in urine
Infection Due to a Foxtail
- Lack of energy
- Lack of appetite
- Swelling, bleeding
- A rancid smell coming from a wound
How to Remove a Foxtail
Most foxtails that are lodged in your dog's fur (rather than embedded in their skin) can be simply removed with your hands. If you locate a foxtail that has somewhat lodged itself somewhere, you can try to remove it with tweezers. Once removed, carefully wash the area with antibacterial soap and thoroughly rinse with tap water.
If you are having difficulty removing a foxtail from your dog, or if it has become embedded in your dog's skin, contact your veterinarian immediately. Surgery may be required to remove the Foxtail. To prevent infection, your veterinarian will also be able to offer pain medicine and antibiotics.
How to Prevent a Foxtail Injury
Because it is nearly impossible to eliminate foxtails from the environment, prevention is the best method to avoid a foxtail disaster. Foxtails are most usually seen in tall grasses away from main walkways or hiking trails. During the foxtail season (late spring, summer, and early fall), avoid letting your dog run across open fields of tall grass. Keeping your dog on a leash might also help them avoid locations where foxtails thrive.
It is extremely rare for a foxtail to be so severe that it results in mortality. So, if your dog is drowsy, has a wound that won't heal, or limps, get veterinarian attention as soon as possible. Foxtails can be cunning and stubborn, despite your best attempts.