The Dreaded Foxtail: An Animal’s Summertime Nemesis!

Foxtails can be found just about everywhere: parks, fields, canyons, even your own backyard!  They are particularly abundant this year due to the healthy amount of rain we have received thus far.  One of our clients recently discovered that her entire backyard was host to countless foxtails, yet another example as to just how ubiquitous foxtails are here in Colorado.  These pesky grass seeds can result in a number of issues for your beloved canine companion, so it is imperative to check your pet thoroughly every single time they have been out and about!

What is a Foxtail?

“A foxtail is a spikelet or spikelet cluster of a grass that serves to disperse its seeds as a unit. Thus, the foxtail is a type of diaspore or plant dispersal unit. Some grasses that produce a foxtail are themselves called “foxtail”, also “spear grass”. They can become a health hazard for dogs and other domestic animals, and a nuisance for people.” – Wikipedia

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The foxtail seeds (pictured above) can embed just about anywhere on an animal.  While it is often quite easy to spot and deal with a foxtail seed that is loosely embedded within your pet’s coat, it is imperative to check beneath your pet’s arms/legs (the axillae or “armpit”), between each toe, their ears (outer and inner), and nostrils as well.

Body: A good brushing of the coat followed by running your hand over your pet’s entire body is a fantastic way to locate foxtail seeds – not to mention that your pet will absolutely love the extra attention and loves!  Use your fingertips to feel for any “bumps” or abnormalities.  If you find anything out of the ordinary, spread the fur in that area so that you are able to see down to the skin.  If you do see a foxtail seed, simply use your thumb and pointer finger to pluck the seed from the fur.  Be sure to dispose of the seeds in your trash to prevent them from reattaching or being swallowed by your pet.

Toes:  Foxtail seeds often embed between canine toes.  Once your pet is comfortable and relaxed, inspect between each toe, being particularly careful to spread the fur apart to expose the root of the toe (see photos below).

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Should you locate a foxtail seed in the toe, again, simply use your thumb and pointer finger to grab and extract the seed.  Be sure to look very carefully, as the seeds can be challenging to spot, particularly if your dog’s coat is similar in color to that of a foxtail seed.  They can blend in well and look like a strand of fur – using your fingertips to better detect the difference in texture is a good way to go.  Note the foxtail seed embedded between Bali’s toes – he picked the seed up while walking on a paved path in Boulder-they are literally everywhere!  For this reason, we recommend checking your pet thoroughly on a regular basis, regardless of your recent outdoor activities!

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Ears: Visually inspect each of your pet’s ears to check for foxtails.  Be sure to look into the canal as best you can during each inspection.  If done regularly (many vets recommend checking your pet’s ears a couple of times a day, even if they have only been in your backyard), you can typically spot and remove any seeds before they have the opportunity to enter the ear canal.  If your pet is scratching at their ears, shaking their head, or consistently rubbing their head on the ground (as if they have an itch that they just can’t get to) and a visual inspection turns up nothing, it is likely time to contact your veterinarian!

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Nostrils:  Look carefully into your dog’s nostrils to ensure that you do not see any signs of a foxtail seed.  If your dog is suddenly sneezing or snorting for a prolonged period of time, this can be an indication that they may have a foxtail seed within their nostrils.  If your pet is exhibiting the aforementioned symptoms and you are unable to see anything unusual during a visual inspection, it may be time to give your veterinarian a call!

Axillae/Armpits: If possible, help your pet relax and rest upon their back or side (a belly rub is almost always appreciated by our furfriends!).  You can also examine the area while your pet is standing if necessary but this can of course make it more challenging to complete a visual inspection.  Using your fingertips, gently probe beneath each of their arms/legs, and feel for any kind of a bump or anything out of the ordinary.  If you do find a foxtail seed, use your fingertips to remove it, taking care to spread the fur to ensure that you have successfully removed all debris.

While we do carefully inspect every single canine following each Adventure Hike, we ask that you double check us to ensure that your pet is foxtail free!  Again, even if your pet has not been on a hike with us, it is still important to check on a daily basis to ensure your beloved companion has a safe, healthy, and happy summer!