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Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog

Foxtails and Dogs: A Commonplace Canine Hazard


FoxtailsIt can feel that just about anyone who has lived in California for any length of time has encountered the foxtail. These dastardly plants are especially abundant right now due to the dry weather, and the plants’ awns are everywhere. Despite their innocent appearance, foxtail awns (also knowns as cheatgrass) can be a danger to pets.

Learn what pet owners need to know about foxtails and dogs.

Why Foxtails and Dogs Don’t Mix

Foxtails grow pretty much everywhere in this area. The little seed clusters that form on the stalks of this grass species certainly resemble a fox tail; but upon closer examination it is apparent that the ends of these little seeds have sharp points, and aren’t so bushy after all. This point allows the seed to take hold of the ground and develop roots. The outside part of the plant awn also collects bacteria that help to break down the seed pod and help the seed to nestle into the ground.

This survival strategy is detrimental to our canine companions, though. These sharp little awns are notorious for attaching themselves to pets. The foxtail can nestle in a dog’s coat or even inside the nose or mouth. Once attached, they begin working their way into the animal’s body.

Obviously, having a foxtail inside the nose, mouth, eye, ear, or even lung is not a good thing. If not caught early, a foxtail can cause significant illness in the affected pet.

Dogs that have a foxtail embedded may have different symptoms depending on where the plant is in the body. Common signs there may be a problem include:

  • Sudden sneezing
  • Pawing at the nose, face, or ears
  • Bleeding from a nostril
  • Head shaking
  • Squinting or tearing of an eye
  • Gagging or retching
  • Coughing
  • Repeated swallowing

If you think your pet may have a foxtail, it needs to be removed immediately. If you cannot do so yourself, it is important to seek veterinary care right away.

How to Protect Your Pet

Clearly foxtails and dogs are not a good combination. Problems are best prevented by avoiding their interaction altogether if possible. Keep your dog foxtail free by:

  • Keeping your pet’s coat trimmed short
  • Brush your pet frequently, paying close attention to the head and paws
  • Be familiar with what foxtails look like and avoid areas with heavy growth
  • Control any foxtail growth on your own property

By paying close attention, you should be able to remove any foxtails before they can dig in. It is important, however, seek attention any time your dog is acting abnormally. Once a foxtail is embedded, it can become very difficult to remove.

Removal may may require sedation or anesthesia depending on the location of the plant awn. It is not uncommon for infection to be present in association with the foxtail as well, making antibiotics often necessary.

The longer a foxtail is present, the more likely it is to cause serious damage. Doing your best to avoid exposure to this pesky plan and paying attention to signs of a problem can do a lot to preventing dangerous complications.

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