Found around the world, but predominantly in the Western United States, foxtails are grasses that have sharp bristles called seed awns. Foxtails grow in open fields like vacant lots, along roadsides and hiking trails. You’ve probably seen them, but didn’t know the danger they present to your pets, most especially dogs.
The purpose of the foxtail’s seed awn is to help the plant spread by taking root in the soil. Seed awns separate from the plant and take hold of the soil with a missile-like precision. This function is how the plant ensures its proliferation, but it is this exact function that can be lethal when it takes hold not of the soil, but your pet. Once an awn punctures your dog’s skin it does not break down. It lodges in their skin and will burrow deeper as your dog moves around, loosening muscle, allowing the sharp awn to dig in deeper and enter soft tissue. Somewhat hard to believe, this can result in serious injury or death due to infection. The awn carries with it bacterial enzymes and that bacteria can infect your animal. Obviously, how seriously it affects your animal depends upon how long the foxtail has been lodged and where it has penetrated.
What to look for
Foxtails most commonly lodge in places on an animal’s body that are slightly hidden like noses, ears, under bellies, paws and rear ends. That’s why it’s important to look for signs that something might be irritating your pet like, coughing, retching, scratching, tilting the head, and limping. If you’ve been for walks or your dog got outside and roamed around without your knowledge, certainly check for foxtails. Especially do this if you are living or visiting places where they are known to grown, like the Western United States, particularly California, where the largest foxtail problems in pets are reported. Foxtails are also found in the Southern United States and Mexico. It’s important to notes that not all foxtails are hazardous. If you are good at identifying plants, you should keep a close eye out for foxtail barley, giant foxtail, ripgut brome, Canada wild rye and cheatgrass.
What to do
Finding a foxtail in your pet should be dealt with immediately. Veterinarians on JustAnswer can not only help you identify if your pet has been punctured by a foxtail, but in some cases, may be able to walk you through removing it. They can also help you determine the seriousness of the situation and if you should seek in-person veterinarian help. Of course, if you do find a foxtail and can’t dislodge it yourself, you should seek immediate assistance.