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There’s Nothing Foxy About Foxtails

By Elizabeth Bublitz, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

I’m a plant nerd who has always appreciated every kind of plant—even weeds. However, as a dog guardian and an animal enthusiast, I must say, I have yet to see the beauty in foxtails. If you live west of the Mississippi, you know what I mean, as you’ve likely had to deal with foxtails annually.

Foxtails are grass-like plants with a soft seed head from January to early April. Their seed heads resemble foxes’ tails—and that’s where the beauty ends for this plant. The danger for our animal companions, especially dogs who take daily walks and are exposed to them, begins when the seed head dries from mid-April until fall. The seed scatters and attaches to our clothing and to our animal companions’ coats, and because they are barbed, they are very difficult to remove. However, that’s the least of our concern with them. They can also get lodged between dogs’ toes or in their eyes or ears, and if embedded, they can cause abscesses or severe infections. Foxtails can migrate and get lodged into their lungs, spine, or other internal organs, and in some cases, they can be fatal.

Signs that your dog has been exposed to foxtails include an inflamed or painful lump on your dog’s body; squinting, rubbing, or pawing at the eye; aggressively shaking the head to remove seeds from an ear; violent sneezing or bloody discharge if they’re in the nasal cavity; or, lastly, gulping, coughing, excessive swallowing, or gagging if they are lodged in the throat.

In all the aforementioned scenarios, you need to take your dog to the veterinarian immediately to have the foxtails removed. Often, they will have to sedate the dog or perform surgery to get to the seeds.

Preventing foxtails is tricky. They spread very quickly and acclimate to any environment. If you have them in your yard, remove them immediately. You can also spray them with vinegar (it’s an herbicide when used in temperatures above 70 degrees), bleach, or hot salt water. When walking or hiking with your dog, keep him or her away from overgrown and grassy areas. Always examine your Fido after a walk: Check his toes, ears, armpits, and groin area—especially if he’s been off leash. If you think you see one and can remove it, make sure you remove all of it to prevent it from migrating.