Foxtail Poses Serious Problems for Canines
Foxtails are an invasive grass-type weed known to spread in yards, pastures and along trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. The weed can be deadly for dogs.
Circling the News spoke to Dr. Holly Jordan at Palisades Veterinary Clinic on Via de la Paz about the danger of the weed.
“The foxtails are a California problem,” said Jordan, who is from Ohio. “They’re shaped like an arrow and they get caught in a dog’s fur.”
Jordan, who has been at the Clinic for two years, explained that the tip of the plant has a barb and even though it might just barely pierce the skin, the “arrow-like” bushy part of the plant prevents the barb from falling out. The movement of the plant is forward into your animal.
“If your dog starts licking his paw like crazy and you can look down and see it, pull it out,” Jordan said, but if the dog keeps licking, “don’t sit on it– bring your pet in instantly.”
When dogs lick a foxtail, they often push it further into their bodies and the barbed portion continues to migrate inward, aided by the dog’s muscle action. When Jordan sees a foxtail-infected pet, “sometimes its just a little pick spot on the paw.”
A bandage can provide temporary help, and soaking the paw in Epsom salts might help bring the barb out, but “an operation is not uncommon,” Jordan said. “The barbed portion of the plant cannot be absorbed by the dog’s body. It cannot be broken down.”
“It can migrate around tendons and muscles,” said Jordan, who added that if the barb does not come out, “worst case scenario, it might migrate to the spine or the heart.” The barb will not show up on an x-ray.
Owners also have to be aware that foxtails can lodge in a canine’s ear. “I had six dogs with foxtails in their ears within three weeks,” said Jordan, who was pre-vet at Ohio State University, studied animal science at the University of Melbourne and graduated with her vet degree from Western University of Health Sciences. She wants to get the message out to people because “I’m seeing so many dogs that have foxtails.”
She added, “If your dog has excess sneezing it may have inhaled one.”
Since the Palisades is close to numerous hiking trails, dogs that go on hikes and through bushes are more prone to having a foxtail find its way into a paw. Jordan recommends “checking the paws between the pads.”
She saw one dog owner, new to California and Pacific Palisades, who had no idea that the plant could cause so much harm to a pet. “Foxtails are everywhere right now,” Jordan said.
An article in the Whole Dog Journal ( “Beware of Foxtail Grass This Summer”) made the following recommendations:
How to Prevent Foxtail Problems for Your Dog
- Avoid foxtail-infested areas in “foxtail season”- from early summer, when foxtails and surrounding grasses start to dry, until the fall or winter wet season eliminates the foxtail threat.
- If you must walk your dog in areas where foxtails grow, keep him on leash and on the trail to help reduce his chances of encountering the awns.
- To keep your dog from inhaling or ingesting a foxtail awn, don’t allow him to play fetch anywhere near foxtails.
- If you have foxtails in your yard, keep the plants mowed while they are still green to help prevent them from going to seed. Pull the grasses by hand and
deposit whole plants directly into a garbage bag.
- After every outdoor experience in a foxtail zone, check your dog from head to toe. Examine the space between each and every toe and underneath
his feet. Look in his armpits, groin, anal area and ears.
- Keep alert for suspicious lumps, bumps, or swellings on your dog. Look for limping or excessive licking of toes, headshaking, sneezing or a glued-shut eye.
- If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms of having a foxtail barb, take it to a veterinarian as soon as possible – that day!