FOXTAILS CAN WREAK HAVOK WITH YOUR DOG (via Pauline Larsen – Paw Prints)

Late summer in Iowa is the season for deadly foxtail seeds to dig into your dog.   Most of us have seen foxtails along the road or in the fields, and at first glance, they look harmless…just seed pods looking for a place to put down their roots. .   Foxtails are pretty in the spring when the seed heads are soft and green—graceful  tail-like clusters of seeds on willowy stalks– but later in the season they are hazardous to dogs.   The clusters have sharp points designed to penetrate the soil once the cluster comes loose from the plant, enabling the seeds to take hold in the ground and produce roots.  To ensure that the seeds will take root,  the  barbs make it hard for the cluster to come loose from the soil once it penetrates.   The microscopic projections that attach to other surfaces  make foxtails a problem for dogs.  When a dog comes in contact with a foxtail, the cluster attaches to his fur and begins to move inward.  The barbs on the cluster keep the foxtail from falling out of the fur, and the enzymes in the foxtail’s bacterium begin to break down the dog’s hair and tissue.  The foxtail works its way into the dog’s hair, between his toes, into noses and ears,  just as it would work its way into the soil if it had landed on the ground instead of on your dog.      Dr. William Miller  of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains that typically a dog’s feet are involved first, but if the dog runs along with his head down ,sniffing, the foxtail can enter the nasal passages or ears.  “If he tries to pull the foxtail from his foot or runs through  grassy  areas with his tongue out, the foxtail can enter the mouth and stick in the tongue, throat or tonsils, and if  not removed, it will penetrate the skin or soft lining of cavities like the mouth and eyes and migrate deeply into the tissues.  Migrated foxtails can be found in the lungs, along the backbone, and in any number of different places, posing a serious health hazard.”

Given the  destructive potential  of foxtails, it is important to avoid walking your dog in fields or on roadsides where  dry foxtails are present, and in the event that he comes in contact with foxtails,  go over him carefully to find any foxtails that may have lodged in his coat.  Examine his entire body, especially the undersides of the paws, the stomach, the armpits  and inside of the ears.

Signs that your dog has embedded foxtails include:

*Yelping when touched or petted on a specific part of his body

*Repeated sneezing or a bloody discharge from the nose

*Shaking his head from side to side or pawing at his ear

*Gagging or difficulty swallowing

*Watering eyes or an eye that is glue shut.

*Limping or licking a paw

*He may even move in a stiff manner when he walks.

 The best way to handle foxtails is to avoid them, but  If you suspect that your dog has  encountered a foxtail that  you can’t find or remove yourself, take him to your veterinarian immediately.  They can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, so awareness of the problem and  early intervention are  important.

(Written by Pauline Larsen; Larsen can be contacted at Paw Prints, Box 373, Newell, Iowa 50568 or by e-mail at

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