How to Protect Your Dog Against Foxtails

When getting our pups out for a healthy dose of exercise, it can be easy to forget the many ways in which we need to protect them.

Foxtails often look lovely at first glance: tall, wispy grasses that glow in the sun. That is, until their tiny, barbed seed head inexplicably needles its way under your dog’s skin, or up its nose, or into an airway (or any other body part, for that matter). Across the western U.S., foxtails are the bane of dogs, and veterinarians see countless dogs each year that have hidden foxtails causing serious, sometimes fatal, complications.

Dogs Foxtails

Here at NomNomNow, we know that a fresh diet is just one part of keeping your dog healthy, and protecting your pup against the risks they may encounter while exploring outdoors is another aspect of responsible pet parenting. When getting exercise outdoors this summer, keep these useful tips for foxtail safety in mind!

Foxtails & Dogs: What you need to know

What is a foxtail

“Foxtail” is a catchall term for a number of grasses that have barbed seed heads that efficiently penetrate the soil and — less desirably — your dog’s body. Their needle-like seeds are called awns and occur on everything from wild barleys to ripgut brome

How to avoid foxtails

Avoiding foxtails is, of course, the best way to prevent a problem with your dog. That means learning how to identify them, knowing where they might be and when. That way you can avoid the area altogether, or at least keep your dog close to steer them clear of foxtail patches.

You’ll find plenty of these weeds in dry grassy fields and roadsides, but they’ll also show up on hiking trails and sometimes even your yard or park. (If they’re in your yard, definitely pull them out!) These grasses tend to blend in, so keep your eyes peeled for seed clusters on stalks. (Once they go to seed, they may be on the ground.) Learn more about identifying these weeds.

Conditions are most dangerous when seed pods form and grasses begin to dry out. Typically, this is late spring through summer, depending on your location.  The dryer the summer, the earlier you’ll see these sharp, pointed seed pods beginning to scatter. The No. 1 place to find foxtails? California.

Nevertheless, if you like to take your dog on outdoor adventures, you’re probably going to encounter a foxtail habitat at some point. Remember, if you feel an awn or two poking through your sock, it’s likely your dog is picking them up, too.

Foxtail & Dogs l NomNomNow Blog

How to check your dog for foxtails

Since a foxtail can quickly slip under the skin or down an airway, frequent checks are your next best defense. Establish a routine after your walk, run, or hike. Sit down with your canine companion for a thorough inspection. Turn it into a good bonding moment by thoroughly massaging their body feeling for any sharp points, bumps, or foreign objects. A flea comb can be another good tool, especially if your dog has a thick coat. (I like a combination of flea comb and massage.) Foxtails commonly find their way in between the toes, into ears, mouths, and even (ouch) the genitals.

If you find a foxtail, use tweezers to remove it. If the seed has already worked its way under the skin and you can’t fully remove it, it’s time to call the veterinarian and ask for help.

When to call the vet

Worst-case scenario? You don’t see the foxtail right off and it worms its way into a hidden area.  Any kind of excessive scratching or licking may be a tip off. Also watch for sneezing, whining, head shaking, pawing, drooling, or bleeding. A foxtail may also leave behind a small puncture hole. They can often cause infections as they inch their way along, inciting a loss of appetite, lethargy, swelling, or even discharge. Those are all signs you should check in with a veterinarian ASAP. Due to the foxtail’s ability to migrate rapidly through the body and cause severe complications, a quick response is your best course of action.

Keep your dog safe from foxtails this summer, and enjoy outdoor exercise as safely as possible!

Learn more about health & wellness for your dog at

Author: jennyduffieldwhite

Jenny White lives in southwestern Montana where she writes and plays in the mountains with her bird dog. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Women’s Adventure, Backcountry Journal, Narrative Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, and others.

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