Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 17, 2017

How do we Westerners hate foxtails*? Let us count the ways...

Posted at 04:08PM - Comments: (19)

An infinite number of barbed grass awns waiting to invade canine toes, eyes, ears, and more

Here in California, it’s foxtail time. This grassy weed is everywhere outdoors – in the wilderness areas where we hike, yes, of course, but also alongside suburban sidewalks and coming up in cracks in city parking lots. They are in my backyard and front yard and side yards. I spend hours each week pulling them up by the roots and carefully discarding them in the green waste bin, because there is a tiny seed at the base of every single strand on every waving frond on every plant that will grow another foxtail plant next year. If you have a very small yard, with enough years of dedicated weeding, you can eliminate them from your yard. I have a large yard and I will never see the end of them.

Each foxtail plant has several or dozens of these plumes, each containing hundreds of barbed awns, each tipped with a sharp seed.

Why are they a problem? They are so pretty! You can run the fronds through your fingers and they are so soft – as long as you stroke them from bottom to top. If you try to reverse the direction of your caress, you learn instantly why they are the most reviled weed in the west.

Every single strand is lined with nearly microscopic barbs that catch on anything they touch, from fur to collars, clothing to bare skin. When the barbs come in contact with anything, they propel the strand forward, pushing the sharp-tipped seed at the end forward – relentlessly forward. The barbs can be felt when the grass is green, but as the plants dry out in the late spring – like, right now – they get sharper and more defined, like a brand new metal nail file. So when your dog walks through the drying grass, they practically fly off the plant and attach themselves to his fur, where they relentlessly drive those seeds into his flesh.

Top four favorite places for foxtails to invade: between dog toes and in dog noses, ears, and eyes. But they don’t discriminate; they are just as happy to burrow into dog armpits, urethras, vaginas (when girl dogs squat to pee) – anywhere there is a bend or soft, sensitive flesh.

Foxtails have sent my adolescent dog Woody to the vet twice this WEEK! He managed to do something unique – new at least to me, the vets have seen it all before. He indiscriminately ate some grass and apparently managed to include some foxtail awns. I heard him making a Bill the Cat noise (“Ackk!”) and immediately thought he must have swallowed something he shouldn’t have, and off to the 24-hour vet clinic we went. The vet looked inside his mouth and said, “Yup, foxtails…I can see one sticking out of his tonsils!” Woody is a compliant fellow, but to make sure she got them all, the veterinarian had to knock him out and thoroughly inspect his throat. She found several in the area of his tonsils, and more jammed in his gums by his molars. Good heavens, Woody! You are not a herbivore!

The only thing I've seen that protects a dog's nose, eyes, and ears from foxtails - the Outfox Field Guard, from outfoxfordogs.com. The only problem is that a dog can't really be expected to live in one 24/7 for the next few months.

Five days later, Woody suddenly sprouted a lump on his cheek, the size of a small egg. There wasn’t a nick or cut that might indicate that he ran into something. I looked inside his mouth and saw something that looked like a little pimple, which made me think “$%^&*@* foxtails!” again. Back to the vet for a little exploration of Woody’s cheek.

The classic sign of a foxtail – the sign you actually want to see when you suspect a foxtail – is a little wet hole in the dog’s flesh, perhaps one that’s oozing a bit. That’s where the vet starts the search, with a little local anesthetic and a long, skinny alligator forceps. The foxtail will sometimes create a little track in the dog’s flesh, that the vet will try to follow to its end and pull it out backwards with the forceps.  That’s the best case scenario.

More often, it goes like it went with Woody’s cheek; a little pimple indicating where the foxtail seed may have entered his flesh, but no track to follow and no ooze indicating where the seed is causing an infection that can be lanced and cleaned. The vet lanced the spot, found nothing, and now we have to wait and see. Was the piece of awn or seed small enough for his body to break it down and the swelling will subside? Or is the awn big enough to resist a quick disintegration? Will it keep traveling and cause trouble elsewhere? I’ve heard horror stories of foxtails traveling into dogs’ hearts, lungs, brains – you name it. I’m telling you, I HATE THESE PLANTS!

On walks, we give yards or parking strips like this a wide berth

If anyone needs me for the next few days, I’ll be outside, weeding. Or using a flamethrower. We’ll see.

* To all of you who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, count your blessings. On the other hand, those of you who live in chigger country, or where your ticks are epidemic and carry Lyme or Rocky Mountain Fever, you got me there. 


Comments (19)

After reading the comment re Hare barley and Foxtail barley being confused, I Googled Hare barley and ended up going to the University of CA Agriculture and Natural Resources Website. They had very good photographs of the two and the other reader is right. What is pictured in the article is Hare barley. Wish I could post the pictures here, but they are easy to find online.

Posted by: Owlish | May 23, 2017 3:32 PM    Report this comment

I am a native Californian and recall many times of foxtail procedures coming into the Vet office where I worked. The many places on a dog that they can attach themselves. I used the Alligator Forceps to remove fox tails from dog's feet, noses, ears, etc. Here in Washington state we have them as well. My little Jack Russell started having episodes of foxtails in his ears. I just wanted to tell a handy tip my Vet here gave me, put Vaseline in the ears, the foxtail cannot penetrate and gets stuck in the Vaseline. Also for the nose, a little squirt of Vaseline (that comes in the tubes) put into the nostrils, helps prevent them from getting into the nasal canal. I join the club of Disliking Foxtails.

Posted by: dianaopiewan12@hotmail.com | May 21, 2017 4:13 PM    Report this comment

When we visited my husbands Aunts family in the foothills of the Sierra's. My dog came home loaded with them. They are awful. It took a lot of time to get them all out. Now we only go up when they have all died out, or when they have cut them down.

Posted by: smallstones | May 19, 2017 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Wow, I never heard of this. Thank you for the article. I guess you really do have to watch out anywhere you go. In FL, we had the chiggers, but I was fortunate that my dogs never got into trouble with them. (Unlike their owner...)Poisonous snakes and alligators were a bigger worry, when I lived in rural areas. We had a dog beach in one area where I lived, but I was concerned about jelly fish.
In New England, have to watch out when walking in woods or fields for poison Ivy, and a lot of people plant holly bushes around their lawns, which is toxic to dogs if they ingest. Ticks are a huge problem here too.
I like hearing suggestions of how people get rid of pesky plants/insects with natural alternatives.

Posted by: Kelley King | May 19, 2017 11:53 AM    Report this comment

As usual your timely observations, and reader's suggestions were very helpful. I will get both the Outbox and weed burner and take heart that I have a chance of conquering the hitherto seasonally victorious evil foxtail.

Posted by: hilfri | May 19, 2017 10:33 AM    Report this comment

We have something similar in Australia (we just call them grass seeds) & my 7yo golden retriever girl has just had stiches removed from her leg after needing surgery to remove one of the little buggers! She also had one in her tummy which fortunately my vet waable to remove with forceps. We hate foxtails (& grass seeds) too!

Posted by: Grevillia | May 19, 2017 12:44 AM    Report this comment

Look into using Vinegar or urine (yes, urine) to kill the foxtails. If you Google using vinegar to kill foxtails (and other weeds) you will get a lot of different recipes that can be used. I have used vinegar or vinegar and salt to kill other weeds (dandelions, etc) in the past with good results. You may have to apply several times to get complete control.

Posted by: Rafe | May 18, 2017 7:26 PM    Report this comment

Thank you to WDJ for frequent articles on foxtails. There is something similar in Hawaii that we found while walking in a wilderness area. It looked so pretty, but when I noticed a seed sticking to my dog I remembered your foxtail warnings, and we carried our dogs out then used a flea comb. Couldn't believe how many were already buried in both dogs hair! I never would have known if you hadn't warned us. Is any part of the planet dog safe? In Hawaii we have ultra poisonous cane toads. Killed one of my dogs in 20 minutes. There is no antidote. As soon as dog starts foaming at the mouth, you have minutes to try to save her.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | May 18, 2017 4:32 PM    Report this comment

How about Roundup?

Posted by: kimfatty | May 18, 2017 3:21 PM    Report this comment

oops: "dog's" with apostrophe. Why can't we edit our comments?

Posted by: chiwoowa9 | May 18, 2017 2:37 PM    Report this comment

As for the tick problem: Try spraying your dog with pure Apple Cider Vinegar, prior to letting him/her out into or taking him/her out into any area where there may be ticks. Ticks don't like vinegar. (Just be sure to avoid getting any vinegar into your dogs eyes or on his/her nose.) Vinegar won't hurt your dog and actually promotes dog health in many ways, including making the fur glossier.

Posted by: chiwoowa9 | May 18, 2017 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Those are photos of Hare barley. I am pretty darn certain of that.

There is a noticeable difference between Hare barley and Foxtail barley weeds. Foxtail barley weeds tend to be more feathery and kind of drape over to the side a bit.

I don't know why, but EVERY SINGLE TIME someone points out "foxtails," or shows a photo of "foxtails," it is Hare barely to which they are referring.

Hare barely is what we have here in Santa Barbara, lots and lots of it. I wish I could post photos to show you the difference.

Posted by: chiwoowa9 | May 18, 2017 2:32 PM    Report this comment

I want to share how I did get rid of foxtails on our 5 acre property without using herbicides or hand weeding. When I lived in California, a friend who had foxtail-infested sheep pastures asked UC Extension how to get rid of them - they said to burn the pasture. She couldn't follow that advice... But when we moved to Oregon and found that over 3 acres of our pasture (that we bought for our three Border Collies) had foxtails growing amidst the grass, I panicked. Then I remembered the burning story. I bought a backpack weed burner (Red Dragon). The first two years I spent a lot of time walking the pasture, burning each plant to the ground as I found it. (Fortunately foxtails are annuals!) Since you can identify the foxtail plant while it is still green, it was safe to use the weed burner. The second year almost as many plants come up as the first year, but then in year three I found many fewer plants, and in year four only one foxtail plant. Yes, I spent some money for the weed burner and a lot of hours walking the pasture, but it was totally worth it, when I think of the alternative!!

Posted by: OregonHolisticVet | May 18, 2017 2:30 PM    Report this comment

We have foxtail and cheat grass. My male was getting thin fast so I took him in for blood work. His test came back the next day but I knew through the night I was loosing him. Blood test were fine. He died that morning. Autopsy suggested a sharp seed was inhaled and stayed in his lungs until it traveled through and once it hit the outside of lung and went septic. He was 4 years old and a great sire. He bred 2 weeks before passing so I kept a male to continue the line and heal the heart. I hate foxtail too!!!

Posted by: Sunshign | May 18, 2017 1:14 PM    Report this comment

WE are on 2 acres and foxtails are everywhere. My Lab sneezed repeatedly at night and again in the AM. $300 later, vet found what looked like 1" thread, a piece of the 'tail' of foxtail in her nose. I have out fox face guards, but you're right, they can't live in them for the next 3 months. We HATE fox tails

Posted by: chicken lady | May 18, 2017 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Yes, where I live, there are ticks everywhere. And very sadly, I just had to put my beloved Golden Retriever down because he had Lyme which got to his kidneys, causing complete failure, despite aggressive treatment. Thank you for the info on the foxtail plant and so sorry about Woody latest 'adventure'.

Posted by: Jeannie B | May 18, 2017 11:36 AM    Report this comment

The OutFox Field Guard is a life saver! We use it when our golden is off leash to play with a ball/chuckit - she can safely play, retrieve a ball, and even drink water through the guard. Even better (and our primary reason for using it), she cannot eat anything! Typical golden, she would eat clumps of dried grass, any delicious looking thing: old pizza crusts, strange poop - you name it! Using this has paid for itself multiple times over...and no vet bills! Highly recommend it.

Posted by: dogwoman | May 18, 2017 11:31 AM    Report this comment

Bottom line, it's not as easy as it should be to encourage our dogs be real dogs while also keeping them safe from harm and healthy! Wishing the best for Woody (who by the way doesn't look very excited about his new headgear!).

Posted by: JanC1955 | May 18, 2017 9:41 AM    Report this comment

So sorry about Woody, but understand your frustration. It is a shame to have to avoid trails that are now awash in foxtails, but a good reminder to stick to wooded areas or frisbee throws in the park! We are lucky in Reno to have easy access to the foxtail-less high country as the snows recede.

Posted by: Robin Chaffey | May 18, 2017 9:24 AM    Report this comment

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