Vets Warn Dog Owners About the Dangers of Foxtail

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic

Summer is the perfect time to hit a hiking trail with your dog. However, there’s one common danger dog owners don’t think about when they take their dogs out in the summer. As more people and their dogs are out and about, vets are once again warning owners about the dangers of foxtail grass. 

Foxtail grass is a common plant that grows across the country, including urban environments. Foxtails have sharp, barbed seeds, called grass awns, that can get into a dog’s fur and work their way into the dog’s skin.

In mild cases, foxtails cause irritation and sometimes infection. When a  foxtail seed burrows in a dog’s skin it can cause painful lumps, sores, and abscesses, causing the dog to excessively lick and scratch the affected area.

Foxtail seeds can work their way into any part of a dog’s body, but these pesky seeds are most commonly found embedded in the paws, ears, and nose. In an interview with KOIN, Dr. Ashley Burgeois, a board-certified pet dermatologist in Portland, Oregon, said “they can step on these little barbs, get them embedded in their fur. We can also see them go in other areas of the body, up the nose is not uncommon. As a dermatologist, I’ve taken quite a few out of ear canals.”

Working and hunting dogs spend a lot of time off-trail and are at a greater risk of getting foxtail seeds stuck in their coat. But that doesn’t make city-dwellers entirely safe, as the wind can blow the seeds from anywhere right to your doorstep. Additionally, long-haired and curly-coated dog breeds are more susceptible than short-haired dogs, as this type of coat gives the grass awns plenty of surfaces to hold onto. 

There are several things owners can do to keep their dogs safe, Bourgeois said. It’s best to avoid walking your dog in foxtail-ladden areas, like hiking trails and fields. Secondly, check your dog for foxtail seeds after every outdoor outing. Bourgeois suggests combing the dog’s coat, looking between their toes, and flipping back their ears for a throughout inspection.

Owners should also look for any signs of irritation, including redness in their dog’s ears, and watch for excessive licking and chewing of the paws. But that’s not all! “Do they start sneezing all of a sudden?” Bourgeois said. “If they get a grass awn up their nose, one of the sounds that we’ll hear of is very abrupt sneezing. So also just look for things that aren’t normal.”

If there’s a chance that a foxtail seed is embedded in your dog’s skin, call your vet right away. When left untreated the awns can burrow deeper perforating a lung if inhaled. If the dog is treated immediately, vets usually remove the awn easily, flush the wound, and monitor the dog. Foxtail seeds are notorious for causing irritation, so monitoring is essential. 

All of this might sound frightening to dog parents, but Bourgeois explained that it’s easy to avoid severe problems. “If we’re being proactive, preventative, seeking care early if it’s not getting better or something acutely is happening, then you’re really going to prevent a lot of those extreme things from occurring,” she said.

Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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