What’s the Deal with Foxtails?

Please see your vet if you have any concerns about foxtails and your dog.

Foxtail. It’s a word that makes every dog owner cringe, but why? What’s the deal with them? What are they and why are they dangerous for our dogs? Here is a quick review.

Photo from Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital

Photo from Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital

What is it?

When grasses like the ones above dry out in the summer heat, they transform into tiny torpedo or bullets that can penetrate your dog. They are most common in western United States and California is considered to have the largest foxtail problem.

Why is it Dangerous?

Because foxtails are barbed, they easily cling to your dog’s fur. Once attached, the movement of your dog causes the foxtail to burrow deep into their skin. They can continue to burrow and get deeper into their bodies. Once on an internal trajectory, foxtails will not go backwards and “work themselves out.” They also carry bacteria that can cause serious infections.

The most vulnerable parts of your dog are the space between their foot pads, armpits, and groin area. They can also get into their nose, eyes, and ears. That’s why you may see many dogs wearing these hoods. This picture, taken at Point Isabel Dog Park, is a great example of a hood hard at work.

Metro Dog Foxtail

Symptoms

Always examine your dog, especially if they have long fur, after they have been in open space. Symptoms of a foxtail can include:

  • Excessive sneezing (foxtail in the nose)

  • Lump on the skin that is painful to touch (paw or undercoat)

  • Violent shaking of the head (foxtail in ear)

  • Pawing at eye (foxtail in eye)

Wherever the foxtail is located, once it’s in the dog it should be examined by your vet in order to make sure the entire object is removed.

Prevention

Fortunately there are easy ways to keep your dog safe!

  • Keep your yard trimmed down and free of long grasses

  • Give your dog a thorough pat-down after a romp in open space

  • Keep hair around face and ears trimmed. Shorter hair can help prevent foxtails from sticking.

  • Look into hoods like the one pictured here - but don’t think that lets you off the hook for a full body exam! Remember, pads and armpits are very vulnerable.

Metro Dog Foxtail Hood

Remember to also stay cool out there!

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