Foxtails: Tiny seeds are a big problem

Foxtails: Tiny seeds are a big problem

By: Cheryl Gilbert

Foxtails can be found throughout the country, in all but 7 states, but are especially prevalent in California. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a dog owner who isn’t familiar with the name, but what exactly are they? Technically speaking, foxtails (also called “spear grass”) are a specific group of grasses including foxtail grass, foxtail barley, foxtail brome, and foxtail millet. However, “foxtail” is widely used as an umbrella term to describe any brushlike flowering spikes that resemble the fluffy tail of a fox. These can be found on many types of common meadow grasses across a variety of terrain. 

All of these grasses, true foxtails and those which resemble them, are annual growth plants that are plentiful from spring to fall. They are most dangerous beginning in May or June when they turn brown and prepare to seed. Not all foxtail grasses are hazardous, which makes education key for pet owners. Foxtail barley (also known as wild barley) is the most dangerous and is recognizable by its cluster of three spikelets.

The foxtail is a seed dispersal system. Seeds are carried by spikelets that are adapted for animal dispersion, meaning that part of the reason foxtails are such a nuisance is that their design allows them to easily latch onto your pet’s fur. Foxtails have a hardened tip (called the callus) and retrose barbs pointing away from the tip so that they only travel in one direction. This makes the spikelet very difficult to remove, and helps the grass awn (another name for the seed-carrying spikelet) burrow into soil. This is precisely what makes them a headache for dog owners; when foxtails attach themselves to a dog’s coat, they burrow into skin just as easily as they do into soil. They can enter a dog’s body in a variety of other ways as well; the most common point of entry is through the external ear canal, but they can also enter through the eyes and can be inhaled or ingested. 

Dog's ear canal

Since they are designed to burrow, foxtails can tunnel through tissue and can perforate organs. Grass awn migration disease is caused by foxtail-borne bacteria that can leave a trail of infection as the spikelet travels through your pet’s body, creating infection and injuries. Your dog’s natural movements help move the awn along its path of destruction; simply chasing a bird, scratching an itch, or shaking the head can help progress the irritant and the concurrent infection. Since a dog’s body cannot naturally break down the plant matter, foxtails that have entered your pet’s body must be surgically removed.

Dog surgery

While any surgery is a serious undertaking, foxtail removal is compounded by the fact that once it enters your dog’s body, finding the awn is as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. Protecting your dog from foxtails is key to avoiding unnecessary emergency surgery. The Veterinarian-recommended OutFox Field Guard shields your dog’s ears, eyes, nose, and mouth from these dangerous seeds. This revolutionary product gives pet owners peace of mind while enjoying all the outdoor adventures that spring and summer have to offer. Walk, hike, and run without fear of foxtails wreaking havoc on your pet’s health.