Foxtails: Your Dog’s Worst Enemy

Foxtails. I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years and never realized how dangerous they are. In fact, I only vaguely knew what they were.

And then one day, Biscuit walked into the room with his ears droopier than normal. They looked weird. So I examined his ears, and although I couldn’t see any redness, anything in them, or any sign of irritation, his yelp at the mere touch of his right ear told me all I needed to know. He was in serious pain.

I took him to the vet that day, and it took the vet 5 tries with 2 people holding Biscuit in order to get a good enough look inside his ear to see there was some kind of splinter in it. Biscuit is usually very cooperative at the vet, so that just goes to tell you how much pain he was in.

It was heartbreaking watching him squirm and yelp in pain, trying desperately to get away from this thing she was putting in his ear. He couldn’t understand she needed to see inside so she could help him. All he knew was that she was making it hurt worse, and I was letting it happen.

Once she found the splinter-type thing, the vet had to sedate him to take it out. The slightest wriggle while she had tweezers in there could rupture his eardrum.

When she pulled it out, she came to show me what it was. Not a splinter…a foxtail.

As they continued to monitor him while he woke back up from the sedation, the vet printed out some information for me. I read it and was shocked to discover that for years there’d been this weed trying to kill my dogs, and I didn’t even know about it.

What are Foxtails?

Foxtails are all over the United States and parts of Canada, especially west of the Mississippi, but they’ve also spread along the east coast. They’re not common along the Gulf Coast. They’re most common in late spring and early summer. Sure enough, when I drove around my neighborhood on the way home, I saw just how prolific they are. Foxtails lined much of our walking route, sometimes on both sides of the sidewalk!

Here’s what the plant looks like:

Keep in mind that this is one that’s all dried up. They can be much greener, and they may  be taller or shorter, with lots of stalks or just one.

The problem with foxtails is that, like dandelions, their seeds blow away when they dry up. They can also just fall off if you brush up against one, sticking against you. But unlike dandelions, these seeds are little darts with one pointy end that spreads out. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They’re designed to burrow deeper and deeper, only naturally going one way: forward.

That means that if I hadn’t gotten Biscuit to the vet when I did, that foxtail would’ve kept traveling deeper into his ear canal. (And it was already quite deep.)

Usually they burrow when they’re brown and dead looking, but Biscuit’s was still pretty green.

And these dastardly seeds seek out places to burrow, such as ear canals, nostrils, the mouth, genitals…any hole they can find. They can even penetrate the skin between the toes! If they manage to get inside a dog, they cause major problems. They can infiltrate the bloodstream or organs and cause infections. They don’t show up on x-ray and the body has no way to naturally destroy them. They can literally be deadly.


How to Deal With Foxtails

When I read all this, I wanted to just shut my dogs inside and never go for a walk again! But of course, that’s not a good solution either.

The main thing is to avoid them as best you can. I’ve now learned where they are along our various walking routes. In the places where they grow on both sides of the sidewalk, we step off the sidewalk and walk in the road. In the places where they are just on one side of the sidewalk, I keep a tight leash and lead the pups around them.

The next thing is to carefully check your dogs over as soon as you finish a walk. Especially check any orifices and between the toes. Comb their fur to make sure you remove any you didn’t see.

There are also things your dog can wear to protect themselves. Dog boots like those worn in the winter or these disposable boots are one option. The Outfox Field Guard offers protection for the ears and face. I haven’t gone that far because my dogs HATE wearing things on their heads, and I didn’t want them to find walks stressful.

Bottom line: Be vigilant. Don’t let an annoying weed turn into an expensive vet trip…or worse.

And if you’re too scared to even walk your dogs…you can at least have some quality time reading together! Check out our customized books for your pup.