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.

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.

17 COMMENTS

  1. What if you can’t get your dog to a vet immediately? I don’t drive (legally blind), and there’s not always someone around to drive me.

    Excellent article otherwise! I have printed it so it will be handy.

  2. If you are unable to get to a vet right away, don’t leave it in the eye… do your best to remove it safely. To further a better grip, try using a wet, unfolded gauze pad to grab it firmly and pull slowly. Someone must hold dog tightly as it is painful. Then take to vet for them to confirm it’s all out.

  3. I have been lucky. I had a lot of them in my yard but I went out and pulled them out every year that they grew so this year I didn’t find any. I didn’t have any until I got some topsoil. I warned all my friends about them.

  4. Is that the same as foxtail fern? I looked it up and it seems to be different. I live in South Texas and I have only seen the ferns in flower beds.

  5. Same comment here: what does the plant that produces those horrible things look like?
    In February, my dog poked his head into some bushes and came up with them embedded into his snout.. I tried to remove them, but, eventually had to go to the vet. She had to anesthetize him, and took out over 20 of those suckers!
    Please, if I don’t know what the plants look like, how can I get rid of them, or pull them up from the park?

  6. I, too, have no idea what Foxtail is, what it looks like or if it grows in upstate NY.
    I will Google it, but hope you will follow up with photos/descriptions of any plant that is dangerous for dogs to encounter!
    Thank you!

    • In Calif they start out as looking likes tall green grass.
      Lawns develops free, then dry out, blow in wind and can cause the damages described.
      It is best to mow them before arms produced.
      If not raked, as mostbare not in large field, they blow and produce even more.

  7. Jesus people! Why the hell do you just go online and google FOXTAIL PHOTOS AND DESCRIPTIONS
    WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG HERE? DUH, WHY DO THESE PEOPLE HAVE DOGS? THEY SOUND LIKE
    THEY COULD NOT PUNCH THEIR WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG

  8. I would also like to offer up some complementary therapy advice. The homeopathic preparation of Silica is used to expel foreign bodies. It can be quite powerful and should be used with caution if pacemakers etc. are present. Even if Silica doesn’t completely expel the fox tail, it might at least make it easier to remove. Don’t knock it till you try it!

  9. My 3 dogs and I hike in CA-foxtail central:( I have a friend in upstate NY who never heard of them, but she has had to deal with a few porcupine encounters.
    I read about OutFox (a tough mesh net that encloses dog head, they don’t mind it) 2 years ago here at Whole Dog Journal and since wearing them while hiking, no foxtail has invaded ear canals or nose, saving me from the previous average of at least one foxtail related vet bill per dog per month, during our 3-4 month foxtail season. One still has to check paws regularly as foxtails love the space between toes, as well as groom the coat, but that doesn’t require a vet. I found that ShowSheen, a horse grooming product really makes grooming my mix with fluffy collie type hair that burrs really stick to much easier.

  10. Last summer I used an Out Fox mask on my dog and had no trouble with foxtails in eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Still had to check his paws.
    You can read about the mask at the website
    outfoxfordogs.com

  11. In Nevada foxtails can mean cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) or foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) or in S. NV red brome (Bromus rubens). All three have the same result – penetration into the dogs paws, ears, mouth, eyes, belly, etc. The foxtail barley needs more water than is seen on the open ranges so is found around irrgated lawns, pastures, etc, while the bromes do just fine with the scant precipitation that we get here every year. Both bromes turn red to purple once they are dried up and ready to go into your dog. Can’t see a way to post pics or would do so.

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