How to Protect Your Dog from Foxtails

September 26, 2023

In the wonderful world of dog adventures full of nose-down explorations and tail-wagging fun, a small but significant danger lurks known as foxtails. Now, you may wonder: what is a foxtail? We're not referring to part of a fox's anatomy. Foxtails are a type of seed that can cause significant trouble for your pup.

Foxtails, as unassuming as they may seem, have a knack for embedding themselves in your dog's coat and skin, leading to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situations. Summer is peak foxtail season, so just when your pooch is itching to frolic in the sunny outdoors, these little dog hitchhiker seeds are ready to cause trouble.

Proactive grooming practices can prevent these grassy culprits from causing harm to your pup's health. At Barkbus, our groomers are pros at identifying skin issues and promoting healthy, foxtail-free coats. Don't let these pesky seeds ruin your pet's summer joy by scheduling a grooming appointment with Barkbus!

Read on to learn more about foxtail grass identification, and how to prevent them from causing trouble for your pup.

Understanding the Foxtail Plant

The foxtail plant is a type of wild grass that produces seed heads. These grasses have numerous barbed spikes — sometimes referred to as dog burrs — that can easily become embedded in your pup's fur and skin.

If your pup comes in contact with foxtails, they can migrate through their fur and even work themselves into their paws, ears, nose, and eyes. As they travel, these barbed seeds can cause pain and irritation — or worse, lead to an infection if they’re not properly removed.

What Does Foxtail Look Like?

Foxtails get their name from the way their long, thin seed heads resemble a fox's tail. Other popular names for this grass include "bristle grass," "pigeon grass," or "cattail grass." These plants produce several spiky seed heads that start off green and then turn to a golden brown color over time.

Some variants can have purple or pink-tinted seed heads, too. The foxtail plant bristles can range from less than an inch to larger seed heads that are up to six inches long.

A field full of foxtail plants up close.

Where Do Foxtails Grow?

Foxtails can be found nearly everywhere in the United States, but they’re more prevalent in warmer states during the summer months. From open fields to cracks in the city sidewalk, they can pop up almost anywhere. 

But where do foxtails grow most abundantly? You're more likely to encounter them in slightly barren, grassy areas, particularly next to rivers or gravelly areas such as railroad tracks. The pesky foxtail plant is an expert at survival.

Identifying Foxtail-Related Problems

After going on a walk — especially in the summertime — it's important to check your pup thoroughly for any sign of foxtails that may have gotten stuck in their fur. There are some warning signs that your dog has had a run-in with a foxtail plant. For instance, your pup may start scratching or licking at their fur or shaking their head more than usual. Their skin may become red and irritated, and you may even start to spot some swelling.

How to Conduct a Thorough Inspection for Foxtails

Checking your dog regularly is crucial, especially if you live in an area where these stealthy seeds are common. Foxtail in dogs can sneak into the strangest places, so make sure to thoroughly examine all areas of their body, starting from the tip of their nose to the end of their tail. Here are some handy tips to inspect for foxtails yourself:

  1. Start by checking your pup's coat. Look for any foxtails in their fur and use your hands to gently feel around for anything that shouldn't be there. Don't forget to check behind their ears and down their back, as foxtails can easily hide away in those areas.
  2. Next, take a look at their paws and between their toes. Foxtails can often get stuck in between the pads of their paws or on the fur between their toes. As such be sure to check those areas carefully too. A foxtail on a dog's paw can be particularly painful.
  3. Finally, check inside their ears and eyes as foxtails can travel through the ear canal or even enter the eye.

Left untreated, foxtail in dogs can travel through their body and cause serious health complications. Foxtails can migrate through the skin, eyes, ears, nose, and even into the lungs — causing some serious issues in the process. Some potential health risks that foxtails cause include:

  • Blindness if they’re left to fester in the eyes
  • Ear infection if they’re not properly removed from the ears in time
  • Lung complications, which can lead to severe life-threatening infections

Treating Foxtail Incidents

If you've discovered some superficial dog burrs, then it's time to start removing them by following these steps:

  1. Use a pair of tweezers to remove the foxtail from your dog's skin.
  2. If the foxtail has traveled deeper under the skin, please seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
  3. In cases where a foxtail has entered the body through your dog’s eyes, nose, or lungs then it is important to seek veterinarian help immediately. 

Sometimes, a foxtail may have already migrated internally before you even realize it's there. Look for any signs of distress such as excessive licking or biting a specific area, pawing at their ears, or showing signs of pain when touched. If you notice any of these symptoms, then a trip to the vet is an absolute must.

Foxtail Prevention

The old saying, "prevention is better than cure," has never been more true! Here are some tips for avoiding the problems associated with dog burrs:

  • Avoid tall grass or weeds when you're out and about with your pup. Stick to established trails when hiking.
  • Post-adventure, remember to brush out your dog's coat and check all those foxtail-prone areas we've talked about.
  • Consider a short haircut, particularly in the summer, to reduce the likelihood of foxtail hitchhikers. Your pup’s coat will also be easier to maintain!

Keep Your Pup's Skin Safe with Barkbus

At Barkbus, we're all about healthy fur babies! Our professional groomers are trained to spot skin issues, including bothersome dog burrs. With the added convenience of mobile grooming, your dog will receive personalized attention without leaving their familiar surroundings. 

Proactive grooming can keep your pup safe, happy, and free from foxtail-related problems! So, schedule your Barkbus appointment today, and let's give your furry pal the TLC they deserve.


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