Foxtails are pesky, bristly grass awns that grow in abundance throughout San Jose, California and the western United States. They are not a singular plant species, but rather a family of grasses characterized by pokey seed clusters (or “tails”) at their tips. The barbed seed heads can work their way into pets by burrowing in their fur, skin, nose, ears, and eyes. The foxtail burs cause it to embed and move forward (never back), allowing it to migrate deep into your pet’s body. Because the seeds don’t break down inside the body, an embedded foxtail can lead to pain, swelling, abscesses, and even death.
How do I know if my pet has a foxtail?
If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms, check for foxtails or contact us at (408) 293-3448:
- Feet – Foxtails can easily migrate between tender toes. Check for foxtails if you notice swelling, limping, or licking at paws.
- Ears – Look for sudden head shaking, tilting, or scratching incessantly at an ear. A foxtail may be so deep inside the ear canal that you can’t see it. We have a special scope to look inside ears.
- Eyes – Redness, discharge, swelling, squinting, and pawing all may be signs that your pet has a foxtail lodged in the eye. Seek veterinary care immediately. Prolonged exposure can cause serious damage to the cornea.
- Nose – Watch out for nasal discharge, bleeding, or intense sneezing. Foxtails in the nose need to be removed under sedation.
- Mouth – Gagging, hacking, licking the air or excessive swallowing are signs that your pet may have a foxtail in the mouth or throat.
- Any area of the skin – The burs of a foxtail can burrow in any area of the skin. Check your pet frequently for redness, swelling, bleeding and open wounds.
How do I prevent foxtail issues?
The easiest way to prevent foxtails is to keep your pets out of overgrown, grassy areas. Pull out any foxtail plants you find in your yard. After a hike, check over your pet’s entire body. If your pet has long hair; shaving the fur of the paws in the spring and summer months can also help.
If you suspect your pet has a foxtail, call your San Jose veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment at (408) 293-3448. This might require sedation or general anesthesia for safe removal of the foxtail. Removal might require several attempts, as it can be like looking for the needle in a haystack.