Foxtails in Dogs Symptoms, Removal, Treatment and Prevention

Foxtails in dogs

Foxtails only travel forward and never backward. This makes them dangerous for pets as they could infiltrate and perforate internal organs with time. This post explores foxtails in dogs nose, ear, paw pad, skin and throat, and the accompanying symptoms. We also explore treatment and preventive measures.

Foxtails in Dogs

Foxtail is a generic term used to describe various species of wild grasses. It is associated with wild grasses which tend to grow in grasslands. They are common along trails and dumps. They also grow perfectly on flatlands, irrigated meadows, and salt marshes.

Dry foxtails which are dangerous for dogs

Normally, foxtails will grow during the winter and spring. A seed will then form at the top as they mature. It takes a soft and bushy appearance comprising of various seed heads. These give it a fox tail look thus the name.

With the onset of summer, the seed heads which are also referred to as grass awns become brittle and fall off. With time the compact foxtail starts to break into tiny segments. Each awn holds a few sharp pointed bristles covered with microscopic barbs. In case the dog steps on rolls on or plays around the area with the dry foxtails, the barbs will catch on its fur.

More damage is done in case it is sniffed or swallowed. The moment the foxtails in dogs are attached to any part of the pet is the beginning of trouble. They will experience symptoms such as those discussed below.

Foxtail in Dogs Symptoms

When dogs have foxtails, they tend to exhibit signs that show all is not well. The severity of the symptoms depends on how deep the awns have penetrated, the point of entry as well as the number. Foxtail in dogs symptoms include:

  • Sneezing excessively in case of foxtails in the dogs nose
  • Dog shaking head vigorously in case of foxtail in the ear
  • Lumps on the skin that are painful to touch
  • Pawing at the eyes
  • Visible abscesses
  • Discharge from the point of entry on the skin
  • Bacterial infection

Areas Vulnerable to Foxtails in Dogs

A quick stroke of a foxtail with your fingers can help understand why they are dangerous for dogs. The barbs though microscopic only allow for a one direction movement. If you try to rub them in the opposite direction, the barbs catch on your skin and also prevent backward movement of the bristle.

Any efforts to try to move it to the opposite direction leads to breakage. This is the same way the foxtail behaves whether on the dog’s skin or inside the throat. There are some specific parts vulnerable to the awns. These are:

Foot, Paws, and Toes

The paws of dogs are quite vulnerable to foxtail injuries. They can easily get in between their toes and once they do, the flexing motion that results as the dog walks pushes the foxtails deeper into the toes. From there it gets into the skin and keeps being driven further inside. Symptoms will include limping, swelling and the dog licking the area constantly.

Foxtails in Dogs Nose and Lungs

Since dogs love sniffing at things, it is easy to get foxtails in dog’s nose. If it happens to go past the air passage, it might find itself to the lungs where it may become embedded. Signs that the awns may have gotten into the nose include sneezing and intense nasal discharge

Foxtail in Dog Ears

Since there is a cavity in the ear, getting foxtails in dog’s ears is easy especially as they play and roll in areas with dry lawns. These are quite dangerous as they could cause a rupture in the eardrums. Head tilting, vigorous shaking and consistent scratching of the ears could all be indicative of the presence of foxtails in the ear of a dog.


Foxtails in dog’s eyes can interfere with vision and in severe cases, they could lead to blindness. Symptoms of having the awns in the eyes include discharge, squinting, redness, swelling and pawing.


In case the dog happens to ingest a foxtail, it might be embedded in the throat.

In addition to the above body parts, foxtails have also found their way into dogs through the genitals, anuses, open wounds and penile sheaths. Once they find their way in, they keep burrowing inwards unless they are found and removed.

They will continue traveling in the dog’s body. A hollow tract is left where they pass. The awn only stops when it comes across a barrier such as a bone or when it pops out through the skin.

Since they can’t be absorbed, digested or broken down, any foxtails that find their way deep in the body tissues can stay a long time. They could remain lodged in the lungs, heart, brains, liver, glands and other internal organs. This makes them quite dangerous for your dog.

Dangers and Risks of Foxtails in Dogs

There are many risks and dangers of having foxtails in dogs but which can basically be categorized into two. These are reactions to the foxtails as a foreign body and infections resulting from its presence in a dog. The extent of risk and damage done may range from mild irritation to medical emergencies.

Where they penetrate through the abdominal or chest walls, the situation could be life-threatening. Other serious consequences include:

  • In case awns travel through the nasal passage, they could get into the brain and result in seizures.
  • They could also cause tissue necrosis.
  • Foxtails found in the ears could cause ruptures in the eardrums. It could also lead to chronic ear infections.
  • When lodged in the eyes, it could cause conjunctivitis and blindness in severe cases.
  • In case foxtails are inhaled and get their way to the lungs, infections could result. Additionally, pneumonia could be experienced.
  • Foxtail migration could cause spinal vertebra and intervertebral discs infections.
  • In addition, secondary infections in various parts could occur following the presence of foxtails in dogs.

Dogs Likely to Experience Foxtails

While any dog that ventures outdoors is vulnerable to foxtails and are indiscriminate when it comes to the nostrils and other orifices, there are some circumstances in which the likelihood of having it lodged is greater.

  • Furry dogs are likely to pick and retain more foxtails compared to short haired dogs.
  • For foxtails in dog’s ears, prick-eared breeds are more susceptible compared with those that have hanging ears.
  • Dogs spending a lot of time in the fields and hunting dogs are at high risk of experiencing foxtails.

Foxtails in Dogs Removal

Foxtails embedded in dogs subject your pet to excruciating pain and possible long-term ailments. As such, the best remedy for foxtails in dogs is keeping your dog off of them. In case you notice some growing in your yard, remove them before they start getting dry.

When situations are inevitable and your dog still has to traverse through areas with foxtails, check the dog thoroughly. Pay close attention to the area around the toes and keenly check on the coat.

  1. Where you find any foxtails, remove it immediately before it penetrates deep into the skin. You can use a pair of tweezers.
  2. In case the foxtail has already embedded in the skin, take your dog to the veterinarian immediately to have it removed. Remember the longer you wait the deeper it penetrates so be fast.
  3. Foxtails in dogs removal by a veterinarian are done under local anesthesia. A minor procedure is then conducted and aftercare medication and instructions are given.

How to Treat Foxtails in Dogs

In most cases, no treatment is needed for the foxtails. Once removal has been done, there is nothing much to do. However, in case an infection results from the lodged awns, treatment with antibiotics will go a long way.

Once foxtails in dogs have been located and removed, the symptoms tend to disappear within one to four days. In case they remain persistent after that, it could be an indication that there are some more inside. When this happens, it is important to have followed up checkups by your veterinarian. These will help establish whether there are more awns lodged in or if there are other medical conditions affecting your dog.

Tips on How to Prevent Foxtails in Dogs

Protecting your dog against the nasty awns will help avoid the devastating effects that come with them. Here are a few tips on how to do this:

  • Keep your pooch away from areas with foxtail grass by avoiding dead grass and dry patches.
  • Pull out foxtails from your yard to ensure it doesn’t mature.
  • Trim off the hair when foxtails are in season to avoid their getting caught up in it.
  • After an outdoor session, always check your dog for foxtails. Check its coat, face, ears, paw pads and around the mouth. Where necessary, brush your dog to get the foxtails off it.
  • In case after taking all the precautions your dog still gets some, visit your veterinarian immediately as trying to remove foxtails in dogs could lead to the worsening of the problem.