We all love to take our dogs for walks or watch them play in the yard or park. But there is a little known danger for dogs called foxtails. A foxtail is a spikelet or a spiked cluster of a grass that serves to disperse the seeds as a unit. Some grasses that produce a foxtail are themselves called “foxtail” or “spear grass.”
Foxtails are those annoying, prickly seeds that get stuck to your socks, pants, and even shoelaces. Because of the way the seeds are meant to disperse they dig into the soil quite well. The hooked barbs that make them great for burying themselves in the soil makes them potentially very dangerous for your dog.
As summer progresses and the seed heads, known as awns, dry out they become brittle and fall off the plant. They continue to dry and the long foxtail breaks into smaller and smaller segments, with each sharp-pointed awn sporting a few long bristles. Viewed under a magnifying glass, each bristle is covered with an infinite number of microscopic barbs. They are a danger right through autumn.
The seeds will not dissolve on its own. If your dog steps on one it will penetrate his skin. They also can be sucked into orifices. They can cause a great deal of damage once inside your dog. The hooked barbs can penetrate your dog’s tongue, lips, eats, nostrils, throat, and all the way through his system. The barbs can also penetrate the lungs.
Necropsies (animal autopsies) have revealed foxtails in dogs’ glands, hearts, brains, lungs, livers, and other organs. When they penetrate the body wall through the chest wall or the abdominal wall they are life-threatening. And even if the body cavity isn’t penetrated, foxtails can lead to serious consequences.
If foxtails get deep into the nasal passages, they can continue to travel into the brain and cause seizures or death,” he says. Foxtails can also cause tissue necrosis leading to fungal infections which can be as serious as cancer.
What you should know about foxtails:
- Be aware that there are many species of these grasses and, although they are most common in western states, they can be found throughout the country.
- These grasses spread quickly and can be found even in your own yard. You can either pull them out or spray them with vinegar on a hot day to kill them. But be sure to remove any seed heads once the plant is dead.
- They are most dangerous when the seeds dry out. They snag on fur, penetrate foot pads, and can be inhaled.
This is one example of foxtail
This is another example. This is grown as an ornamental grass.
What to do to protect your dog:
- Stay on well-beaten down paths when walking your dog.
- Don’t allow your dog to run through tall grass or weeds.
- Carefully check your pet after any exposure or even potential exposure. Be sure to check between toes, in and around the ears, around the mouth and eyes, the “armpits,” and the groin.
- Comb your dog thoroughly after walking if you suspect there may have been foxtails in that area. If you have a long haired dog you need to be especially careful combing him and you may even want to get a summer cut.
- If you are unsure you can remove the entire seed take the dog to the veterinarian.
- Although your dog may hate them at first, you may want to get him boots to protect his feet if you walk in areas that are prone to growing these grasses.
If you see a bump on your dog after he’s been in an area that may have foxtails it’s best to have it checked by your veterinarian.
Enjoy the summer and fall with your dog but keep him safe!