Most dog owners are aware of how inconvenient foxtails and/or burrs are for a long-haired dog. But first-time dog owners or newly relocated San Diegans may not be aware of the serious danger they present to their pet’s comfort and safety. In San Diego county, foxtails are a daily part of life from spring until the winter rainy season and like rattlesnakes and hot cars, are one of the deadliest aspects of summer for dogs.
Foxtails are the barbed seed heads of several grass-like plants across the Western United States. Your pet will encounter them, even if walking on urban sidewalks as they grow in unkempt yards, street easements and literally anywhere. We San Diegans are so accustomed to them, that we sometimes become casual about the danger that they pose to our pets.
In June, we started seeing them coming into our shop on grooming clients embedded in paws and deeply embedded in fur. Foxtails are more than a grooming problem. Foxtails can kill your dog. They are very difficult to find in thick coated dogs and can work their way into any bodily orifice. Combing and removing them from fur can take hours and should be done immediately. Even short haired dogs are subject to the dangers of an embedded foxtail and dogs often chew them or get them in ears or eyes or nasal passages.
Burrs are round seed pods that have hooked barbs that can easily become entangled in your pet’s fur. They seldom are found individually, and your pet may have many burrs tangled into their fur. Burrs can become embedded in the fur between your pet’s paw pads and may be difficult to see or remove and can be very painful for your dog to walk with. Keep an eye out for any limping or unusual changes in your dog's gait.
Local vets see a huge spike in foxtail related injuries in spring and summer and the consequences can be very expensive, painful to your pet and life threatening. There is only one direction that a foxtail can travel and that is forward so if left undiscovered can quickly embed themselves into skin, gums or organs and fester. Foxtails do not soften when entering a body, cannot be seen on an x-ray and are not digested and if eaten, can perforate internal organs.
What to do!
When returning from walking your dog, it is important to carefully inspect your pet all over and in sensitive areas such as armpits, under their collar or harness, paws, ears, eyes, nose, mouth and even genitals. Take the time to carefully remove any sign of them and use feel as well as sight to detect them.
Brush and comb your dog regularly and especially after any outside walks. Brush again after foxtail/burr removal and re-check as they get caught in matted fur. Use a fine bristle brush to help catch any debris in your dog's coat. Foxtails brought into the house in your pets’ fur can also embed themselves in your carpet, upholstery or your pet’s bed and will eventually take root in your home’s yard.
Read some of the articles listed below for signs that your pet has a foxtail problem and if you suspect anything, take your pet to a vet immediately! Foxtails can move quickly to a dangerous spot if undetected.
Prevention is difficult and most vets recommend simply staying away from grassy fields such as Fiesta Island or popular hiking areas during crucial seasons. Check your own yard carefully as it is likely that they are growing somewhere near home as well. Kill any plants in early spring before they have a chance to develop seed pods. Having your pet wear dog boots or shoes can help prevent getting these pests embedded into your pet’s feet and there are some extreme measures such as face shields that can help sporting dogs who are regularly in tall grass fields or dogs that have a habit of chewing grass. However, these protective accessories are often not well tolerated by pets.
If you are a dedicated wilderness hiker and must bring your dog, do so early in the morning or when the atmosphere is most damp as dampness makes them less likely to be sniffed into nasal passages or blown into fur. Consider using a protective device if your pet will tolerate it. Your pet’s life is worth the extra trouble.
How to protect your dog from foxtails
Symptoms and treatments of foxtail invasion
The Foxtail Dog Protector
The Outfox Foxtail Protector
The Best and Worst Dog Boots