Dogs Can Get Seriously Hurt By This Common Plant

<p> Natalie Greco / <a href="" target="_blank">Flickr</a> (<a href="" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>) </p>

As the vibrant green grasses of spring dry to warm gold tones in the Bay Area, a nemesis to our dogs will appear in the grass: the foxtail. Mother Nature engineered these sturdy, bushy seed spikes that, appropriately enough, resemble foxes' tails to attach themselves securely to passing wildlife, helping them spread over the landscape. Nature's design employs the use of barbs that allow the foxtail to move in only one direction - ever forward. This can pose serious problems for dogs that pick up foxtails while sniffing around during walks and outdoor playtime.

Photo: Fotolia

Dogs get foxtails in their noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and other orifices. Foxtails can work their way into a dog's nostril or ear canal, just out of sight, in moments and without notice. While foxtails are fairly easy to pick out of the fur of shorthaired dogs, they can disappear into longer-haired dogs' fur, and they can also burrow through the dogs' skin without being noticed by humans. If not removed early, foxtails, along with the bacteria they carry, can form abscesses or migrate through the body, damaging tissue and causing infections. Once inside the body, a foxtail can be very difficult to locate and retrieve.


Foxtails can't work their way out on their own, but they can burrow under the skin and into the vital organs such as the brain, eardrums, and lungs. Common symptoms of foxtail problems depend upon the location of foxtail, and might include:

  • Ear canal: head shaking and tilting, scratching at ear
  • Eye: redness, discharge, swelling, squinting, pawing at eye
  • Nose: intense and frequent sneezing, discharge from nose
  • Under the skin: draining tract
  • Lung: labored breathing, coughing
  • Toes: swelling, limping, constant licking
  • Vagina or penis: persistent licking of genitals

Foxtail safety checklist

During foxtail season (May through December) after walks or other activities in areas that might contain foxtails, do the following:

1. Thoroughly inspect your dog for foxtails hitchhiking in its:

  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Fur (brushing is often recommended)
  • Nose
  • Mouth and gums
  • Paw pads, especially between toes

2. Use tweezers to remove accessible foxtails.

3. Call your veterinarian immediately for assistance with removing a foxtail that is deeply embedded, or if the area around it is red or swollen.


The best remedy is prevention. During foxtail season, consider the following advice:

  • Keep your dog out of overgrown grassy areas
  • Remove grasses with foxtails from your yard
  • Trim your dog's hair if it is prone to collecting foxtail burrs

Keep your pup safer by inspecting frequently and preventing foxtail contact as much as possible. And don't skip any veterinarian appointments! They can find foxtails in areas of your dog's ears you cannot examine. And if you need help making time to get your dog to the vet, contact a pet taxi service.

For more pet care tips, check out Canine Companion and Concierge's blog posts.