Foxtails are a threat to pet health. Exercise outdoor pet safety when hiking with pets or playing outside with pets.Foxtails… The name conjures up images of soft, fluffy plants that seem pretty harmless, right? Actually, wrong! Foxtails, rye grass, gamma grass, cheatgrass and other common members of this plant family are well known for the injuries they can inflict on pets. So, what are these formidable foes and why should your pet avoid them in the great outdoors?

Redwood Veterinary Hospital is here to help!

What are Foxtails?

Foxtails are a grass-like plant (considered a weed by many) in the genus Hordeum. As its name implies, foxtails have a fuzzy end that resembles a fox tail. This genus also includes other spikelets, like cheatgrass, barley, millet, and rye. These grasses contain a tiny barb or awn that allows them to attach to anything going by, including your pet. This mechanism also contains an enzyme that helps the awn propagate by burrowing into its host.

What Does This Mean for Your Pet?

Just like any passerby, your pet can become an unwitting carrier of these stubborn awns. Over time, awns can embed themselves in the skin and become infected. In some cases, they can embed in a pet’s urethra, nostril, eye, ears, digestive tract, or other highly sensitive areas. If left untreated, the infection can cause abscess, which has resulted in death in rare cases.

While this all sounds fairly scary, there are ways to protect your pet from foxtails. But first, let’s review the symptoms of a foxtail infection:

  • Chewing or licking at paws, between toes, or other sensitive areas
  • Head shaking, scratching at ears
  • Irritated, red eye
  • Coughing, gagging
  • Excessive sneezing
  • Lumps on the skin
  • Discharge from ears
  • Limping
  • Pus or swelling

While some of these symptoms may apply to other conditions, it’s best to bring your pet in to see us either way.  

Protecting Your Pet From Foxtails

While it’s next to impossible to keep an outdoor-loving dog or free-spirited feline 100% protected from outside dangers (even indoor pets are prone to parasites), it’s important to be prepared.

To keep your pet foxtail-free, avoid places where these grasses grow, such as open fields, ditches, along fences, and disturbed lots. Also keep your pet out of bushy areas, as these are breeding grounds for ticks and other pests.

Inspect your pet’s skin and coat after being outdoors, and regular grooming is a must to keep your pet healthy all summer long.

If you have any questions about foxtails or other outdoor risks, please give us a call!