When you are out of doors this summer and fall, watch out for areas with foxtails which are now throughout the country as well as in Canada. Foxtails and similar grasses such as cheatgrass, squirreltail, June grass and some brome grass, have seed awns that are pointed, sharp, and barbed. These seeds easily drill into the soft tissue of a dog. They frequently get stuck between toes or in the dog’s ears, but can also be found lodged in other parts of the body, even in shorter coated dogs. They can be inhaled or breathed in. They can find holes or create their own and begin to burrow under the skin.

Foxtails become dangerous when the plant has died back and the seed heads have become dry. These easily fly off as the dog runs through them or rolls in them. If you live in an area where any of these plants live, have a foxtail pulling party to help eradicate them if possible. While herbicides and mowing can help control it, the seeds are still there if killed later in the season and mowing only spreads them unless the clippings are bagged. Pulling and possibly burning the plant are the most successful, although the seed awns are difficult to burn.

After an outdoor walk, if your dog suddenly begins to sneeze or cough,  tilts his head and scratches at his ear, or licks a certain spot repetitively, especially between toes or in skin folds such as arm pits or the private areas,  check for any sign of foxtails. In the case of coughing, intense sneezing, or a discharge from the nose, take your dog to the vet and explain that you have been out for a walk or hike and your dog may have inhaled foxtails. They should also be taken to the vet if the dog’s eye becomes red or swollen, or if the dog continues to paw at it and squint. Foxtails have been known to cause death in pets when they have been able to burrow in. The microscopic barbs on the seed assist the seed in moving forward and make it very difficult to pull out. The seeds can migrate to the brain, lungs,  heart, or lungs. They can be lodged in the tonsil area and cause serious irritation. They can become lodged in a dog’s eyes, mouth or ears. If they migrate within the body, infections will occur as it disrupts the normal body functions. Bacterial or fungal infections may also be introduced into the body via the seed awn, causing more damage.

As it is not overly common, veterinarians may overlook the possibility of foxtails if a dog becomes sick. If you have any suspicion that the dog may have had access to foxtails and is now sick, be sure to let your veterinarian know. The problem with foxtails is they do not show up on any xrays, so detection may be difficult.

The best prevention is to avoid any areas with foxtails, but even a small plant may be located where you were not expecting it. They can be found in open fields, parks or city streets. Always check your dog thoroughly after a walk outside where there is potential for foxtails. Brush or comb your dog thoroughly and make sure to check between all of the toes and any other areas such as arm pits and genital areas after returning from a walk. It could save his life.
(For those who would like to read more about case studies, etc., on grass awns and dogs, here is a website that is dedicated building more awareness: