The Danger of Foxtails

Foxtails are a common weed in our area. For humans it is an annoyance – who hasn’t gotten one of those pointed little seeds stuck in a sock? For dogs and cats, it can be crippling.

The yellow foxtail plant is common in Southern Utah.

The small seed of the foxtail plant is barbed and can easily become tangles in your pet’s fur. The seeds can get inside the ears, the eyes, the nose, the throat, the anus and/or the vulva, causing pain and infection. It can also lodge directly in the skin, and once it is there it can work its way inside the body and migrate, causing damage and infection. So far this year, our office has surgically removed foxtails from eardrums, from under eyelids, from inside the vulva and from inside the abdomen, where it had caused an abcess.

Dried foxtail seeds.

Signs to look for:

  • Foxtail in the nose: Violent sneezing with possible bloody discharge.
  • Foxtail in the throat: Repeated swallowing and/or gagging and coughing.
  • Foxtail in the ear: Repeated shaking of the head, pawing at the ears or rubbing the head along the ground.
  • Foxtail in the eye: Squinting at one eye. Possible discharge or swelling.
  • Foxtail in other areas: Excessive licking or chewing. Whining or crying with no obvious injury.

Prevention is the best cure for foxtails. Remove the weeds from your yard during the spring while the seeds are still green and harmless and avoid walking your dog in areas where the weeds are prevalent. If you do see a patch of foxtails while you are out walking or hiking with your pet, keep him or her from walking through, sitting in or chewing on the plants.

If you think your dog or cat has been in an area with foxtails, examine him closely. Carefully brush his hair while feeling for any raised areas on his skin. Pay close attention to inside and under the ears, between the toes, under the armpits and in the groin area.

If you see a foxtail sticking out of your pet’s skin, carefully pull it straight out, making sure not to break it off. If you think a foxtail might be embedded in the skin or if you suspect one is stuck in an eye, an ear or in a nostril, get your pet to a vet as soon as possible.

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