When dog owners talk about "foxtails," they are actually speaking of the seed portion of the foxtail grass. Once foxtail grasses dry out, the seed detaches easily and sticks readily to clothing and fur.
The name "foxtail" is applied to a number of grasses that have bushy spikes. Most commonly found in the southwestern United States and California, the are produced by grasses that are allowed to grow and go to seed.
If you have ever walked through a field of weeds and wound up with a number of stickers in your socks, most of them probably were foxtails.
Anywhere that grassy weeds grow, foxtails pose a serious risk to your dog. How? Foxtails get caught in your dog's hair because the barbed spikes from these grasses break off naturally. From there, they can move into the skin.
Foxtail seeds can enter a dog's body in a variety of ways and once they enter, they act like an animated fishhook: the seed continues to move forward through the dog’s body, and because of tiny barbs, cannot move backwards. It's most common for a foxtail seed to enter a dog's body through the skin, nose, ears, paws, genitals, and eyes.
Cases have even been reported of foxtails being lodged in male dogs' urethra. One vet I spoke to mentioned how a foxtail seed found in a dog's lung was believed to have entered initially through the dog's paw!
Foxtail seeds are tenacious, and can be deadly. Foxtail seeds are relatively small, so detecting them once they enter a dog's body can be difficult.
Vets usually rely on telltale symptoms such as head-shaking, paw licking, swellings on the body, or sudden and continuous sneezing.
Foxtail seeds in the ears, nose, and eyes are very serious and can ultimately be life-threatening if they are not treated promptly. If a foxtail seed has been inhaled and lodged in the nasal cavity, the dog will sneeze repeatedly and violently, sometimes even banging their nose on the floor with each sneeze in a futile attempt to dislodge the seed.
It is often possible to sedate the animal, locate the seed with an otoscope, and remove it using special forceps, if rushed to the vet after the initial symptoms appear. If a foxtail seed is lodged in the paw or under the coat, a lump will usually form that is painful to touch. Depending on how deep the foxtail seed has traveled, they can usually be removed surgically.
When a foxtail seed get into a dog's eye, they will usually paw at the eye and the eye will water. Even if you can see a foxtail lying under the eyelid, don't try to remove it yourself! There's a good chance that you may not get it all. Keep your dog from pawing at their eye and get to a vet immediately, preferably a veterinary opthomologist. If your dog gets a foxtail in their ear, they will usually shake their head violently.
If you suspect a foxtail, get your dog to a vet immediately.
The only real way to eliminate foxtail problems is to prevent them.
To learn about how the Foxtail Dog Protector can protect your dog against this danger, click here.