How to protect your dog from foxtails in the San Francisco Bay Area

It may be only June, but foxtails are in full “bloom” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yes, foxtails are an annual issue, but in the past pet parents didn’t really need to focus on foxtails until the fall when the grass is supposed to turn brown. Sadly, early foxtails are another symptom of the California drought.

Why are foxtails dangerous for pets, especially dogs?

So, what are foxtails and why should pet parents care about them? Foxtails are a grass-like weed that is found throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The tip of the foxtail plant is barbed. This is where the foxtail seeds are located, and the barbing is designed so that the seeds get caught on something and can get spread around. This is great for the foxtail – but not so great for your dog.

Getting caught on your dog’s coat is not really the problem – the problem is that the foxtail can get into your dog’s body. This happens in different ways – but with many of the same results.

  1. The barbed area of the foxtail is sharp enough that it can perforate a dog’s skin. Once embedded the foxtail is likely to cause an infection and needs to be removed (often by a veterinarian) and your dog is treated with antibiotics.
  2. Your dog can inhale a foxtail. If this happens, there is likely to be sneezing and discharge, and your dog may paw at his or her nose. Sadly, once in your dog’s nose a veterinarian may be required to have the foxtail safely removed.
  3. Your dog can ingest a foxtail causing an infection in your dog’s mouth and potentially being swallowed. If your dog is cooperative and the foxtail is not embedded, use your fingers to carefully remove the foxtail. If your dog is not a willing patient, a trip to the veterinarian is required.

No matter which pathway the foxtail uses to get into your dog’s body, once inside, the foxtail can migrate to your dog’s lung(s) or brain or cause an infection all which can be fatal.

3 steps to protect your dog from foxtails

In the best world, your dog would not be exposed to foxtails; sadly, this is not really practicable in the San Francisco Bay Area, but there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk of foxtails.   

  1. When in an area with foxtails, do what you can to keep your dog out of the area. Pick a different path to walk or work on recall – really, just do what you can to limit the amount of exposure your dog has to foxtails.
  2. Examine your dog after every visit to an area where foxtails are present. Pay particular attention to the areas that were likely to touch a foxtail. Examine your dog’s paws, look between the toes and pads; if your dog has a long tail check the tail; if your dog squatted (to pee or poop) check that area, look in ears, around the nose and even in the mouth.
  3. If you see a foxtail, gently remove it from your dog. If the foxtail is not deeply embedded in your dog’s skin, you may be able to remove the foxtail using a tweezer, but even if the foxtail is only in your dog’s fur be careful as it will not come out readily and you don’t want to pull too hard on your dog’s fur.

There was a time in the San Francisco Bay Area when you only needed to be worried about foxtails for a month or two a year; but currently, they are with us 6 months a year (or more). Keeping your dog away from foxtails may not be an option and keeping your dog safe from foxtails takes work, but is critical to your dog’s health and safety.
Thanks for reading and keep your dog(s) safe.