Foxtails, a danger for your dog.

Hello! Welcome to our new appointment!

I've decided to deal with this topic, because it is a very common event. I hope you will find it useful!


Foxtail is a generic term used to describe various species of wild grass, belonging to the family of Gramineae; Sativa Avena and Murine Barley are part of this group.  In spring and summer it's very common  in flowerbeds, fields and meadows. When it ripens, it dries and takes on a colour that goes from yellow to brownish, thus representing a real danger for your pet.

Why are they so feared?

Spike has a particular spear shape and a knurled, bristly, notched surface to the touch, which allows it to "walk" into the fur,  especially when it is thick, long or felted,  piercing , in case of permanence, the skin.

In this latter case, real fistulous paths are developped and their slow, gradual progression always moves forwards, because of their structure. They never spontaneously come out. 

Which body areas does it mostly affect?

In my work experience in this field, I often met dogs with a foxtail in a nostril. Dogs repeatedly sneezed and bleeded.

In this case, the extraction of the foxtail is mostly carried out through an endoscopy with the animal under general anesthesia, before the damage becomes too serious (for instance, the foreign body getting into the pulmonary tissue).

As you can see, the process is labored, expensive and with some related risks, but luckily most of the times the foreign body comes out through sneeze.

In most cases, the area concerned is the interdigital space, as foxtail easily slips into this area during walks.

If we act promptly and are lucky, foxtail will be pulled out by the vet with special tweezers even without sedating the pet, if he cooperates.

If the removal is not immediate, the foxtail could pierce the skin, creating a fistulous path, with abscess, pain and bother for the pet and in case of ascent along the tendinous canal, the procedure will be more complex: it will be necessary a real surgery.

Another common site, is the ear canal, especially for the breeds that do not have pendulous ears and for hunting dogs.

Also in this case, if we act promptly, the removal will be quick and painless, but if the foxtail deepens we will be in front of a purulent and painful otitis which can be also dangerous in case of the eardrum is perforated. In this case the removal will require a total anesthesia and a subsequent long antibiotic cure.

If the foxtail hits the eye, the annoyance will be considerable; the veterinarian, after applying a drop of local anesthetic, will extract the foreign body which may have caused a simple irritation or, in the worst case, a real ulcer, depending on the time of staying.

Also in the latter case, secondary antibiotic therapies are necessary to avoid dangerous infections that could further damage the eye or spread systemically.

What symptoms will your dog show?

Depending on the affected district, you will notice that your dog:

  • will continuously lick the affected area, which may be swollen and reddened
  • may sneeze in an uncontrollable manner. This sneezing may even be accompanied by a bloody discharge. Bloody discharge accompanying sneezing is a fairly good indicator that a foxtail is lodged in the nose
  • will repeatedly scroll the head, due to the discomfort inside the ear
  • will abundantly tear and the eye that be kept closed or semi-closed

The veterinarian will assess the severity of the situation and intervene in the most appropriate way.

How can you avoid these unpleasant inconveniences?

Timely intervention is essential:

  • after the walk, minutely check your dog' s hair, interdigital spaces, axillary, inguinal, perineal areas (under the tail) and the ears; the latter together with the eyes are the most dangerous areas where the greatest damage can occur;
  • avoid infested areas during the walks and keep your garden clean
  • remove all the foxtail that you find on your pet before they "move"

Doing so, you will avoid the most serious damages and make the walks with your faithful companion free from the dangerous foxtail!

See you next time! I hope this tips have been useful for you.


Eleonora Bosoni

Dr. in Veterinary Medicine



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