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Foxtail in dogs paw

Foxtail stuck in a dog's paw

The essentials

  • These grass seeds love paws, ears, and the nose — Don’t walk your dog in overgrown grass or on trails with foxtails.
  • Foxtails can dig into any part of a dog’s body — Check your pup for barbs after walks and carefully remove them with tweezers if you find any.
  • If inhaled, foxtails can puncture a dog’s lung — If you believe a foxtail is stuck in your pup’s skin, paws, or ears, please take them to a veterinarian immediately.

What are foxtails? 

Foxtails are seeds of destruction. These grass seeds or awns can wreak havoc on your dog’s body, and pet owners need to avoid areas where they grow!

If you live in the western region of the United States, then you probably know these grasses very well. According to High Valley Vet Hospital, “The name ‘foxtail’ is given to several types of grasses with hard seed-bearing structures with sharp pointed ends and microscopic barbs. The grasses become dangerous as the seed head dries.” It’s not uncommon for pet owners to use a weed burner to control and manage foxtails so they can’t cause harm to their pets.

Other grass seeds to be aware of

Depending on the region, the name “foxtail” may refer to a variety of grass types.

  • Actual “foxtail” or “wild barley” (Hordeum murinum)
  • Ripgut grass (Bromus diandrus)
  • Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum)
  • ​​Wall barley or false barley (Hordeum murinum)

Why are foxtails dangerous to dogs?

Foxtails can puncture your dog’s lungs! The pointy tip of the grass seed is very sharp and can easily lodge into your dog’s paws, ears, nose, and skin. Your dog could also accidentally eat one on a trail. Foxtails can cause a painful infection and lead to an abscess if they’re not removed.

Foxtails are found throughout the U.S.

Foxtails can be found starting from late spring through early fall — and everywhere throughout North America. However, foxtails aren’t commonly found in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia.

In western states like California, they can exist all year long

These grasses are very common in the sunshine state. They start appearing in April and diminishing by fall in northern and southern California. The awns from foxtail grasses, barley, and millets are all very harmful to your dogs.

Foxtails and other grasses with barbed seeds commonly grow along roads, in meadows, grassy fields, vacant lots, in backyards, and areas where you’d typically hike with your dog. Many homeowners struggle with controlling and managing foxtails in their yard.

Most common sites found in dogs

Grass awns are often found between the paws, eyes, and nose. According to the Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), “The most common site of grass awn localization was the external ear canal, involving 51 percent of grass awn cases.” The JAVMA also notes that there’s an increased prevalence of grass awn problems in the springer spaniel, English cream golden retriever, Brittany spaniel, and Airedale terrier.

How to detect foxtails on your dog

The biggest signs your dog might have a foxtail are sneezing, shaking their head, squinting, and even limping. Here are other important signs to look for:

  • Sneezing and snorting
  • Nose bleed
  • Excessive licking in the area the foxtail is located
  • Swelling
  • Draining tract
  • Pawing at the ear
  • Head tilt
  • Pain when head or ear is touched
  • Redness and discharge from the ear
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pawing at the eye
  • Discharge from the eye

Should you remove foxtails from your dog’s fur?

Pet owners can use tweezers to remove foxtails from their dog’s fur if the foxtail is located on top of the skin. “If the foxtail has penetrated the skin or in the eye, ear, nose, or mouth, then it’s best to let your local veterinarian remove it because if it’s not removed completely then it can migrate to other areas of the body and cause further discomfort,” says Dr. Diener, DVM.

🚨 If you’re unsuccessful using a tweezer, see your vet as soon as possible to have them remove it.

Tips to keep your dog away from foxtails

Here are a few ways to prevent your dog from getting a pesky foxtail stuck to their fur.

Always check your dog after being outside — This behavior should be no different than checking for ticks if you live in a region where this parasite resides.

Avoid areas where foxtails grow in summer months — Look at dog forums and ask other dog walkers if they’ve had issues on certain paths or hikes.

Watch where your dog walks and plays — If there’s any question about dog walks and foxtails, avoid the area and find a path that is clear of the dangerous seeds.

Check your yard for foxtails and have them removed — Provide ways to remove grasses like a weed wacker or even consider burning them! Pull the roots up in the spring.

👉 Take a look at our list of the best pet-friendly pesticides for your lawn and home. 

Keep your dog properly groomed and trimmed — Always brush your dog’s coat whether they’re short or long-haired coats (so foxtails don’t get stuck to their fur).

Use a grass-catcher and always throw away the clippings — If the plant is still alive, after mowing, it will begin to produce the plumes right at ground level so make sure your timing is right when you mow.

Gear to protect dogs from foxtails

If you absolutely can’t avoid areas with foxtails, try the following gear to help prevent a trip to the vet. Always check your dog for foxtails regardless of the preventative gear you’re using — just to be safe.

  • Mesh head guard. This headgear may look ridiculous, but it does protect your dog from foxtails. Many trainers use this during any hike where foxtails are known to grow.
  • Dog boots. Dog boots are a wonderful way to protect your pup’s paws. Many owners use these in the winter and summertime when the cement is too hot to walk on. Getting your dog used to wearing boots is a good idea regardless of where you live. But if you’re near foxtails, it’s definitely time to invest in a pair.

Frequently asked questions 

What happens when a dog gets a foxtail?

The pointy tip of the grass seed is very sharp and can easily lodge into your dog’s paws, ears, nose, and skin.

How do you treat foxtails in dogs?

If the foxtail is on top of the skin or in the fur, then yes use tweezers to remove it. But, if it’s embedded in the skin, then have a veterinarian remove it.

How do you know if your dog ate a foxtail?

If your dog eats a foxtail, this can be an emergency. The foxtail can perforate a dog’s intestine or cause a severe infection leading to an abscess. Watch for coughing or gagging following a hike or walk.

Are certain dog breeds more likely to get foxtails?

According to JAVMA, “There was an increased prevalence of grass awn problems in the springer spaniel, English cream golden retriever, Brittany spaniel, and Airedale terrier, but a decreased prevalence in German shepherd dogs, poodles, and dachshunds.” However, any breed that lives in a state where foxtails are present is at risk.