Foxtails are the curse of springtime in California. I feel like I should vacuum my back yard. When my gardener mowed, I followed along behind with a rake, sweeping up as many of these nasties as I could. I’ll never get them all. They will attach to my dogs’ coats, and I’ll eventually be picking individual seed heads off of each dog.
Beside causing mats and just generally messing up the dog’s fur, foxtails are dangerous. Their sharp barbs can penetrate the skin and get into the dog’s bloodstream, eventually lodging in a lung, abscessing, and killing the dog. One blade of grass lets lose hundreds of little barbed seedlings. Dried seeds are most dangerous, because they are sharp and penetrate the skin more easily.
Foxtails are notoriously hard to find in the dog’s coat. My sheltie Sherman had one between his toes. His foot was infected and he kept licking it. The vet anesthetized him and couldn’t find the foxtail in the wound. After a week of antibiotics, there was still an open hole between the dog’s toes. I poked around and pulled the foxtail out. It had moved back out. Once removed, Sherman healed up nicely.
The best prevention is to inspect your dog’s entire body every day, including the ears, rear end, and between his toes. Folds around the face, under the armpits – all are susceptible. Shorthaired dogs like Labs seem to get just as many as a sheltie. And foxtails are so small they are often hard to see.
People moving to this area are often unaware of foxtails, so educate your friends!
Dog Owners Guide to California Foxtails, by Curtis Clark
Foxtails, By Patty Mead, National Vizsla Association
The following article features information from a veterinarian and explains symptoms a dog will show when a foxtail is imbedded somewhere on its body: