Foxtails are a pretty common sight along the road or in fields when you are out walking your dog. The big question is whether or not you know what they really are.

Foxtails are essentially nothing more than clusters of seeds that adhere themselves to the stalks of long grass. The clusters have sharp points so that they can easily embed into the soil when they fall loose, allowing new roots to take hold and plants to grow.

In order for the seeds to do their job, they need to be able to penetrate the dirt, which is why the sharp points have a barbed appearance. You will also find bacteria made up of enzymes on the outside of the cluster. These break down into cellular matter when they come into contact with the ground, once again allowing the seeds to take hold in the soil.

The time of the year when foxtails can cause the most amounts of problems for dogs is during spring and summer. This is when the climate is drier and the seeds start to fall loose in search of a place to penetrate the soil. While foxtails are found all over the country, they are most prevalent the western region of the United States, with California being the state where they are most commonly found.


Foxtails play a major role in the natural process of reseeding, but they are certainly not helpful to dogs. Once a dog brushes against a foxtail, it will attach to his fur and the seeds will move inward as the dog walks. The aforementioned barbs allow the clusters to stay attached to the fur, while the enzymes will go to work on breaking down the tissues and the fur. Over time, the foxtails can get down to the body of the dog and start to burrow in the same way as they do with soil.

All of this leaves you with a pet that ends up very ill. Just how sick is a matter of the point of entry and how much damage was done by the foxtails on the way there. The most common ways into the body are through the eyes, ears, mouth, nasal passage, and even the lungs. They can also affect the backbone and other essential parts of the body.

Your vet will very quickly be able to locate and remove the foxtail with tweezers, assuming it hasn’t already gone too deep. If that is the case, surgery may be required to remove the offending barbs.


Here are some signs that your dog may have picked up a foxtail:

  • Your dog starts to sneeze and paw at their nostril, where blood may appear.
  • Foxtail in the ears will lead your dog to shake their head, pawing at their ears, and taking on a very stiff gait when they walk.
  • If the eyes are affected, you will notice excess discharge, tears, and mucus.
  • If a foxtail penetrates your dog’s mouth, be on the lookout for gagging and retching. They may also swallow repeatedly, stretch and scratch at their neck, and try to eat grass.

If you spot any or all of these signs and fear that foxtail may be the issues, you need to see the vet immediately. Time is very much of the essence here. You may be able to remove some of the seeds on your own, but the vet is definitely the best option, as just a few missed seeds can mean serious health issues for your dog.