Pet Care

Foxtails pose a serious threat to outdoor dogs and cats.

Foxtails pose a serious threat to outdoor dogs and cats.

What dog doesn't love running through a grassy field at the height of summer? This seemingly carefree activity comes with one risk that every pet parent in California should know about: foxtails. These grass-like weeds (also known as grass awns, mean seeds, cheatgrass, etc.) can pose a serious threat to animal health. 

Foxtails have peculiarly shaped seed pods that are designed to burrow into the ground. However, if they're pointing in the opposite direction, they can get quickly and painfully lodged within a pup or outdoor cat's paws, nose, ears, eyes, mouth, prepuce, vulva, or even lungs if inhaled. Worst of all, if not removed promptly, foxtails can cause severe infections. Rarely, foxtails carry the tetanus bacteria, which may be life threatening.

You pet may be suffering from a foxtail if they are:  

  • Limping 
  • Whining 
  • Shaking their head
  • Sneezing incessantly 
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Swelling between the toes  
  • Excessively licking their fur 
  • Pawing at their face and/or mouth

Several other signs, such as strange lumps or bumps, red and tender patches of skin, inflammation, or lethargy, might show up a few days later. If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. (Did you know Papaya is currently available to urgent cases such as foxtails? Please call our clinic so our staff can see your pet ASAP!).

How to avoid foxtails.

As a grass that's found across most of the Western United States, it can be difficult to avoid foxtails altogether. With that said, there are specific steps you can take to keep your pets safe. 

  • Stick to the trail during hikes. This does not only keep native flora and fauna safe, it also reduces the risk of foxtail run-ins. A short leash on nature walks may be key. 
  • Consider a summer haircut. Pets with longer coats are prone to picking up foxtails. A summer trip can keep them cool and foxtail free. 
  • Maintain outdoor spaces around your home. Keeping grasses trimmed prevents foxtails.
  • Get your pet a new outfit. Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors or in tall grasses could benefit from a foxtail-resistant hood or shirt.  

After spending time outside, examine your pet's coat, ears, toes, and mouth for any grasses or foxtails that have clung to their fur. Finally, the best way to prevent foxtails is recognizing these plants and avoiding areas where they thrive.



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