Foxtails and Dogs: What Every Dog Owner Should Know

foxtails and dogs

Count your blessings if you’re unfamiliar with foxtails and dogs! These annoying plant bristles grow in abundance.  When dried, they find their way into a dog’s ears, nose, eyes, mouth and every other opening. Foxtails cause the most trouble for dogs during spring and summer, especially in dry climates.  This is the time when the foxtail-like seed clusters found on the stalks of some types of grass usually come loose from the parent plant.  It then searches for where to take root next. Foxtails can be found all over the United States, but are most common in California.

Why Foxtails And Dogs Are A Dangerous Mix

According to nature’s plan, foxtails help in plant reseeding. However, for dogs, it causes a different set of issues. The moment a loose cluster of foxtail comes in contact with a dog, it attaches to their fur and begins to move inward as the dog moves. The foxtail barbs will keep it attached and prevent it from falling from the dog’s fur. The bacterial enzymes in the foxtails will cause the animal’s tissues and hair to break down.

This results in a very sick dog. The degree of the dog’s ailment will be related to the area where the foxtail enters the dog and the level of damage done in the process.

Foxtails can dive deep into a dog’s nasal cavity or ear canal within seconds. They can also readily burrow deep down the skin particularly between the toes. Foxtails can enter anywhere in the body, and symptoms differ based on these locations. For instance, a foxtail inside the ear canal results in head shaking. A foxtail beneath the skin leads to a draining tract. A foxtail within the lung, causes coughing and labored breathing. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of breaking down foxtails, they are spiked in a form that they can only move in a “forward” direction.

Unless detected early, they, with the bacteria they carry, migrate through the body causing tissue damage and infection or become walled off to form an abscess. Once foxtails move inside, they are usually particularly difficult to find and remove, becoming the proverbial needle in a haystack.  At this point, the foxtail would need to be found and removed by a vet. If the foxtail has gone past the reach of tweezers or forceps, the pet would undergo surgery to get rid of the foxtail.

Four Signs To Watch For If Your Dog Possibly Has A Foxtail:

  1.  In the nose – if he sneezes suddenly, paws at his nose, or bleeds from the nostril.
  2.  In the ears – if your dog paws at his ears, tilts or shakes his head, and/or cries or shows a stiff gait while walking.
  3.  In the eye – if your dog squints, tears, and has an excess mucus discharge through the affected eye.
  4.  In the mouth – if he coughs, gags, retches, chews grass, stretches his neck repeatedly and swallows repeatedly.

If you believe your dog has encountered a foxtail, seek the assistance of a vet immediately, if you cannot remove the foxtail by yourself successfully. It is important that you act as quickly as possible as fastened foxtails can lead to more serious and fatal infections.

Did you know that foxtails and dogs can be such a toxic combination?  Do you have a dog or know anyone with a dog who had a foxtail encounter?




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