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Foxtails and Dogs

A couple of weekend ago, we had a foxtail scare. Clover got one in her eye. Not good. Everything turned out okay, but if you want to know more about why foxtails scare me, please keep reading.

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Foxtails - The Scary Weed

Where we live in the mountains of Colorado, the plant that produces foxtail seeds is called "cheat grass." It comes up green early in the spring. It turns red in early summer, then it dries out and drops these scary weed seeds in late summer and fall. Foxtail grasses most often grow near other weeds with little round seeds in our area. The stems are so fine that it's often easier to grab a fistful of the other weed in order to get the cheat grass too. It's easiest to find and pull up cheat grass when it's at the red phase. 

In addition to protecting dogs and cutting down on foxtails year to year, pulling up cheat grass is also good for fire mitigation because it gets tinder dry and burns in a flash.

I pulled (by hand) enough to fill 5 big trash bags. It was hot, exhausting, and prickly work. 

This patch is just outside out back fence on the ranch behind us.

foxtails in the wild of Colorado

Why Are These Grass Awns So Scary

Foxtails are barbed weed seeds that can pierce a dog's skin and continue burrowing into their bodies like a drill. I know of a retriever who required lung surgery because one had worked its way that far into his body. 

Common points of foxtail entry include a dog's:

  • Feet, especially between the toes or pads
  • Ears
  • Nostrils
  • Chest and sides

I also often pull them out of the top of Clover and Tori's heads, and I find them caught in their tails and rear legs.

foxtail seed

Full-Body Foxtail Check

If your dogs run through areas where foxtails grow, I strongly recommend a full-body foxtail check daily, if necessary. I typically use both my hands and a fine-toothed metal comb to look for foxtails in my dogs' coats. They burrow so well, often you'll only see the tiny wisp of the thinnest part of the weed seed. 

Preventive Vet has some great tips and videos on removing foxtails.

Clover's Eye

This recent scare isn't the first time I've gotten one out of Clover's eyes. We'd just come in from all the dogs pottying in the dog pen. While out in the pen, Clover was fussing at a front leg, so I checked that, but I didn't find anything. 

As soon as we got back inside, Clover hopped up on the loveseat with me, and I realized that one of her eyes was watering like crazy. Half of her face was wet. I could only see the tiny edge of the foxtail sticking out of the outer corner of her eye. Thankfully, it was parallel to her cornea, rather than perpendicular. Carefully, I pulled the foxtail out of her eye and then flushed it with saline. 

My best guess is that it was on her front leg. Maybe she rubbed her face against it trying to get the foxtail to stop poking her leg and that's how it ended up in her eye. 

Even though the foxtail was not in her eye long, the outer part of the white of her eye was blood red. Blood. Red.

I also had some Ofloxacin eye drops in the house from the last time she scratched her cornea, so I also put 1 drop in that eye twice a day for a few days. 

Her eye looked pink the next day, then back to normal the day after that, but if it had not improved right away, I would have taken her to see our veterinarian. 

Have Tips to Share About Foxtails and Dogs?

Please comment below.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

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Martha C - September 12, 2019

Thank you for such insightful information. I have four rescue dogs. They are so mischeivuos at times and we constantly have to watch them as they get into things. Its nice to know what things to look for to protect our little ones.

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