Growing up and living primarily in the South, I’d never heard of foxtail grass until I moved to the Pacific Northwest because it’s prevalent primarily in the western US.
But now that I’ve learned about what it could do to my dogs, I see it all over Seattle.
FOXTAIL GRASS – WHAT IS IT??
Foxtails are grasses with seed awns that are extremely dangerous to dogs. Foxtail awns are barbed, razor-sharp needles, designed to burrow into the ground with the seed.
The sharp needles on the seed heads of the foxtail plant can also work their way into any part of your dog, from the nose to between the toes and inside the ears, eyes, and mouth. They can even simply dig themselves directly into a patch of skin.
WHAT DO FOXTAILS LOOK LIKE?
At this time of year, foxtails in Washington have green, lush heads that resemble a finer version of wheat or barley. But the moment the plants start to dry in the summer the heads start to fall apart, and each barbed seed becomes a danger to any dog who goes near it.
Furthermore, because the seeds don’t break down inside a dog’s body, they can cause significant damage.
SYMPTOMS FOXTAILS CAN CAUSE IN DOGS
According to WebMD.com, “Embedded foxtails can cause discharge, abscesses, swelling, pain, and death.”
Dogs with an infected grass awn penetration will show signs typical of an infection: lethargy, loss of appetite, painful swellings, or signs of drainage.
If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms, check for foxtails or talk to your vet:
• Foxtails often lodge in dogs’ feet and can easily become embedded between their toes. Check for foxtails if you notice swelling or limping or if your dog is constantly licking the area.
• If your dog is shaking his head, tilting it to the side, or scratching incessantly at an ear, it could be the sign of a foxtail — one that may be so deep inside the ear canal you can’t see it. Your veterinarian needs to take a look in the ear using a special scope.
• Redness, discharge, swelling, squinting, and pawing could be signs your dog has a foxtail lodged in its eye. If you think this may be the case, seek veterinary care immediately.
• If you see discharge from the nose, or if your dog is sneezing frequently and intensely, a foxtail could be lodged in a nasal passage.
• Foxtails can find their way into your dog’s penis or vagina. If you notice your dog persistently licking at its genitals, foxtails could be the cause.
• Foxtails can also lodge under a dog’s skin, which causes visible swelling and/or pus discharge.
PROTECTING YOUR DOGS FROM FOXTAILS
Preventing foxtails from embedding themselves in your dog is critically important. WebMD notes that “once a foxtail has penetrated the skin and entered into muscular tissue or organs, removing it almost always requires an anesthetic and surgical procedure by a veterinarian.
By following these tips you can significantly reduce the chances that your dog will suffer from health complications caused by foxtails:
• Do not ever let your dog anywhere near foxtails. You’ll find them almost anywhere: along roadsides, in fields, around telephone poles, and in sidewalk plantings. In fact, I saw several patches of foxtails while walking my dogs in Seattle.
• Keep them out of your dog’s yard and enclosure. The best way to get rid of them is to pull them out. I would recommend against mowing them because you could blow seeds all over your yard.
• Keep your dog’s coat clean and well-groomed. This will help reduce seed accumulation and make for easier daily inspections.
• Inspect your dog daily for hair mats (where grass awns like to hide) and between toes. Clipping the hair between paw pads will reduce potential for picking up the seeds.
• Any time your dog is excessively sneezing, drooling, shaking their head, scratching ears, whining, licking at its paw or other body part excessively, have it checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
• For dogs out frequently in areas with foxtails, consider a commercial product, such as the OutFox® Field Guard to keep grass awns away from eyes, nose, mouth and ears.
• Most importantly, be vigilant about watching for foxtails whenever you’re out with your dog. I’ve seen several patches of foxtails in my neighborhood. Yesterday I found a small patch of them on my street about 30 yards from my house.
If your dog shows any of the symptoms associate with the health problems foxtails can cause, take it to a vet immediately.
PICTURES OF FOXTAIL GRASS AROUND SEATTLE
Here are some pictures I took of foxtails in found in my neighborhood. They should give you an idea what to watch for when you walk your dog around Seattle.