Beagle portrait in autumn forestSpring is right around the corner, and while this is mostly a good thing for our pets (more time outside!) the good weather brings with it one of the biggest concerns faced by our Front Range pets: Foxtails.

This pesky weed is more than just a nuisance in our fields and foothills. The spiky seeds of foxtail grasses can cause serious problems for our pets if they become trapped in the fur or are inhaled. So before we head into the great outdoors with our four-legged friends this spring and summer, let’s go over the basics of foxtail dangers and how to keep our pets safe.

What Is A Foxtail?

A foxtail, also known as an awn, is a spiky seed packet that forms at the tops of many varieties of summer annual grasses, including cheat grass and wild barley.

Unlike other grass seeds, foxtails come equipped with special barbs at their tips, which aid in the seed’s ability to take hold in the soil.

Why Are Foxtails And Pets A Bad Combination?

The foxtail’s barbs, which make them so adept at taking root in almost any type of soil or terrain, also give the seeds the perfect vehicle for taking root in your dog’s body.

Foxtails are especially dangerous because, thanks to the positioning of the aforementioned spiky barbs, they move ever forward, burrowing deeper into your dog’s body via the skin, nose, ears, or even eyes, causing damage to internal structures and organs. The wound left by an embedded foxtail is also the perfect conduit for bacteria to move in, potentially causing even more problems for your pet.

Depending on which area of your pet’s body has come into contact with a foxtail, he or she may display any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden head shaking or scratching
  • Pawing at the face/nose/ears
  • Pain, discharge, or odor coming from the ear
  • Red, watery, or otherwise irritated eyes
  • Gagging or coughing
  • Limping or stiffness when walking
  • Bloody nose
  • Explosive sneezing
  • Swollen or lumpy area on the skin
  • The presence of an open sore or pus

What You Can Do

It’s impossible to entirely avoid foxtails in our neck of the woods, but you can minimize your pet’s exposure by staying away from areas where foxtail grasses are found, such as:

  • Grass-covered trails
  • Vacant lots
  • Open fields
  • Fence lines
  • Ditches
  • Road sides
  • Other overgrown areas

Keeping your dog’s coat trimmed, especially the area between the toes, can be helpful in avoiding foxtail issues. Be sure to brush and examine your pet’s paws, ears, face, and eyes closely after being outside during the warm weather months, when foxtails are at their peak.

Pluck out any foxtails that you see and contact us right away if you notice any symptoms of embedding or infection. Anesthesia may be required to remove an embedded foxtail, and your pet will likely need antibiotics to ward off infection.

Foxtails may be here to stay, but with a little knowledge and foresight, we can prevent this little plant from becoming a big problem for our pets.