Foxtails: Harmless Grass, or Costly Threat?

Yesterday I was out walking with my friends during my lunch break, and the path that we walk was FILLED with foxtails. Which means…..foxtail season is upon us.

I know people walk their dogs along this path, and even let their dogs wonder off-leash on this path. Many may think that these foxtails are simply harmless, but the truth is, foxtails can be a big problem for our pets.

So I thought it would be a good time to start addressing the very costly issue of foxtails.

First, let’s start with, what is a foxtail?

Initially, they look like this…

Photo courtesy of SF Gate

Photo courtesy of SF Gate

But then they start to dry up, and they end up looking more like this…


Photo courtesy of

The danger is that foxtails can become lodged in the feet, ears, nose, throat or skin of pets. In my experience, I have seen more dogs suffer from the wrath of foxtails than cats, but that doesn’t mean that cats won’t get them either.

What about foxtails makes them such a threat to dogs?

Well, the shape and nature of this dried diaspora is that it will actually become lodged in the tissues of where it decides to reside on your pet.

If you get one stuck to your clothing, this can quickly become uncomfortable and itchy, and it may take some work to get all the pieces dislodged from your clothes. Now imagine that same foxtail resting on your eardrum….and trying to get it out of your ear?

From Spring through the end of Summer, I have seen so many dogs come in and suffer from foxtails. Many get them lodged in their ears and getting it off of the ear drum (especially getting all the pieces) is not an easy task.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

As you can see from the below photo, the ear drum of a dog is, as we often describe, “around the corner”, we can’t view their eardrum straight on, like a doctor can in our ears, there is a certain angle that is needed in order to view the eardrum of a dog. Now imagine trying to view that eardrum with an otoscope in one hand and a “grabber tool” in the other hand to remove the foxtail from the ear, while your patient is resisting because it is painful….and we can’t explain to them that the pain will be over once we get the foxtail out of their ear.

If the pet doesn’t let us remove the foxtail without giving them pain medicine or sedative, that may be necessary.

Not only are foxtails very painful to have on any membrane, but they can cause a lot of damage as well, because they are considered a foreign body by the dog’s immune system, they can result in an abscess.

In my experience, foxtail abscess are commonly seen in the feet.

As you can see in the below picture, this dog is suffering from a foxtail abscess. Now, the challenge for a veterinarian is to FIND the foxtail.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

That’s right, the foxtail is not obvious, and the doctor now needs to probe for the abscess in the foot which is neither comfortable for your pet, nor is it an easy task. This may be another situation where your pet may need a sedative or pain medication in order to LET your veterinarian probe for the foxtail.

When dog’s present with foxtails in their throat or nose, which are often indicated by excessive coughing or sneezing, anesthesia is often necessary to remove these foxtails, which can soon lead to abscesses. Adding anesthesia to the equation will make this ordeal become much more expensive for the owner, but may be necessary to remove the foxtail.

The moral of the story here is that there are foxtails EVERYWHERE in Northern California and you need to pay attention to the places where you normally take your dog’s for walks (especially if you let them off leash), and please don’t forget to check your yard.

If you pet starts to excessively sneeze, cough, shake their head, or lick a wound on their foot….a foxtail removal may be in their future, so please seek a visit with your veterinarian.

Since I am only familiar with Northern California, I wonder….what other areas struggle with foxtails?

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10 Comment

  1. Reply
    April 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Our beloved Hector (now deceased) got a foxtail stuck in his throat when he was about 2 years old. The vet was amazing, he knew immediately what it was. Hector’s neck and face swelled up to the size of a softball and it was Thanksgiving Day when the swelling began so we had to wait for surgery until the next day. We sat all day long with our poor dog drooling because he couldn’t close his mouth. He had surgery the day after Thanksgiving… it looked pretty terrible as they literally had to cut his throat open — the scar was scary-looking, we had to explain it for months until the fur grew back! This is nothing to mess around with, if your dog gets into foxtails be sure to check thoroughly. Great post, thank you for sharing!
    Kathy recently posted…A to Z Challenge and #WordlessWednesday: T is for Tux #atozchallengeMy Profile

    1. Reply
      April 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

      P.S. We are in Massachusetts
      Kathy recently posted…A to Z Challenge and #WordlessWednesday: T is for Tux #atozchallengeMy Profile

    2. Reply
      April 24, 2014 at 10:33 am


      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sorry to hear that Hector is not still with us :(. Thank you again for stopping by, I did not know there were foxtails in Massachusetts.

  2. Reply
    April 24, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I got a foxtail in my paw once. We fired the vet after his terrible treatment and we have a much better vet now. We’re in Arizona.
    Kyla recently posted…Phi Beta KaliMy Profile

    1. Reply
      April 24, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Poor Kyla! I am glad you found a new vet!

  3. Reply
    Kitty Cat Chronicles
    April 25, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Wow, I had no idea! My cats don’t go outside so this isn’t something I have to worry about, but when I get a dog I will now know to stay away from foxtails. So crazy! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Reply
      April 25, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Thank you for stopping by! Ya, this is a big issue where I live, so I thought I would bring it up 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  4. Reply
    July 2, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I recently found a foxtail in my young schnauzer’s ear after visiting the dog beach at Fiesta Island in San Diego. While there a new friend noticed my problem and suggested a website for foxtail protectors. My pup now proudly wears his ear protector while running thru the grasses at the beach. I feel so much better about his free play.

    I enjoyed your webpage!
    Ronnie recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  5. Reply
    February 1, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    Had no idea there were ear protectors on the market, against foxtails. That may be worth looking into here in Colorado. Thanks for posting!!

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