Symptoms and Treatment of Foxtail Invasions in Dogs

Foxtails are most commonly found in the noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and throats of dogs. Here's how to recognize the symptoms.

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While some first aid may be possible in the event of a foxtail wound, in almost all cases you should get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Delaying treatment allows the foxtail to do further damage; avoiding foxtail treatment altogether could lead to your dog developing a chronic illness or could even lead to death.

Foxtails in the Eyes

RISKS: Irritation, corneal scratches, ulcers, conjunctivitis, blindness.

SYMPTOMS: Squinting, discharge, an eye glued shut.

FIRST AID: Some trail first-aid advocates suggest removing a visible foxtail in the dog’s third eyelid by hand, by using blunt tweezers, or with a damp Q-Tip. However, you risk not removing it completely or driving it deeper. Instead, keep the dog from pawing at the eye and take her immediately to the vet – ideally to a veterinary opthalmologist.

TREATMENT: With a calm dog, the vet will use a numbing agent on the eye and remove the foxtail. A panicked or excitable dog may need sedation.

foxtail pulled from dog

Foxtails in the Ears

RISK: Chronic irritation, infections, eardrum damage, deafness.

SYMPTOMS: Head tilting or head shaking.

FIRST AID: Squirting mineral oil into the ear to soften the awn is a common recommendation. But Dr. Randy Acker, author of Field Guide to Dog First Aid: Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog, cautions against it; if the eardrum has been damaged, the oil will do more harm than good. Get to a vet as quickly as possible.

TREATMENT: The vet examines the ear with an otoscope and uses alligator forceps to extract the foxtail. Sedation may be necessary.

Foxtails in the Nose

RISK: Chronic irritation, infections, tissue damage; may migrate into brain.

SYMPTOMS: Violent, explosive, serial sneezing. There may be a slight bloody dischage.

FIRST AID: None. Get to a vet as soon as possible.

TREATMENT: The dog must be sedated, and a topical anesthetic may be needed to numb the inside of the dog’s nose.

Using a rhinoscope, the veterinarian will visually inspect the area and extract the awn using alligator forceps.

Foxtails in the Mouth or Throat

RISKS: Damage to periodontal pockets, the tongue, or throat; infection; can be inhaled into lung.

SYMPTOMS: Hacking, gagging, difficulty swallowing when eating or drinking.

FIRST AID: If the foxtail is visible, you may pull it out by hand or with blunt tweezers. Feeding the dog bread may force the seed to move through the throat and into the stomach. In any case, see a vet for follow-up.

TREATMENT: The vet will anesthetize the dog and remove any foxtails.

Foxtails in Your Dog’s Paws

RISKS: Abscesses, infections.

SYMPTOMS: Continual licking of the foot or pad, bumpy swelling between the toes, or a small hole.

FIRST AID: If you can see the foxtail, you can try to remove it by hand or by using blunt-tipped tweezers. For embedded foxtails, soaking the paw (plain, warm water, 15 minutes, two to three times a day for three days) may promote the formation of an abscess that will eventually burst and expel the awn. If this happens, continue soaking in antiseptic water for several days.

A veterinary checkup is necessary if the foxtail is not expelled or if you see bumps forming in other areas of the paw or leg – a sign that the foxtail is migrating. Follow up with your vet in any case.

TREATMENT: The vet will locate and remove the foxtail.

Foxtails Under the Skin

RISKS: Infections, irritation, migration through the body; if it penetrates the body wall, it may injure a vital organ or cause secondary infection and abscesses.

SYMPTOMS: A hard bump or lump; may include a small hole in its center.

FIRST AID: None.

TREATMENT: The vet will surgically explore for the foxtail and remove it when found.

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