The summer is here, and it’s a great time to be out and about with your pets. But be aware at this time of year there are small seeds from grass-like weeds, called foxtails, that can embed themselves in your pet’s feet, ears, eyes, mouth and skin.

These hard, fish hook-like seeds produce tremendous discomfort for your pet and are a source of infection, abscesses and ulcers as they penetrate your pet’s body.

What a Foxtail Looks Like

Foxtails can become particularly dangerous if swallowed or inhaled as they can mechanically interfere with breathing and digestion resulting in severe infections. Given their shape and normal pet motion, foxtails travel while on your pet–moving from tail to head–making them exceptionally dangerous for the eyes, ears, mouth and internal systems.

While foxtails can produce significant discomfort and pain for your pet, the larger issue involves infection and health-related complications. As foxtails are sharp, hard seeds that cannot be decomposed or absorbed by the body, they are treated as foreign objects and trigger your pet’s natural defenses resulting in inflammation, abscesses and often infection. Depending upon the location of the foxtail on your pet, the situation can quickly become life-threatening. For example, a foxtail in your pet’s lungs can become fatal. Foxtails are particularly dangerous when they:

  • Are inhaled into the respiratory system (including mouth, nose, sinus, throat and lungs)
  • Come in contact with the gums, eyelids or eyes
  • Attach themselves to the interior or exterior of the ears
  • Become embedded within the paws or between the toes
  • Impact the anal or genital areas
  • Burrow under the hair reaching the skin

Dangers of Embedded Foxtails

Signs that your pet may be impacted by foxtails include:

  • Frequent or uncontrollable sneezing, chewing, nasal discharge, coughing or labored breathing (in the mouth, nose, throat or respiratory system)
  • A swollen/teary eye, squinting or eye rubbing (impacting the eyes)
  • Head tiling or frequent head shaking (impacting the ears)
  • Licking, biting, scratching, redness or inflammation of the skin, paw, or genital areas (impacting the skin)
  • Limping or discomfort when walking (impacting the legs, paw or toes)
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy (a potential infection)

If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, please contact us immediately. We will quickly arrange for your visit and to help your pet.

To the greatest extent possible, you and your pet should avoid all weeded areas and discourage your pet from chewing or eating grassy weeds. This includes avoiding even small patches of tall weeds near poles, fences, parks, sports fields, vacant lots or even roadside. Of course, you should also remove any grassy weeds from your yard or pet’s play area.

We also encourage every owner to carefully examine their pets in a well lit room every time they re-enter the home. Be sure to comb their coat, examine their face and ears — paying special attention to their chest, tail and areas between the toes. It can also be helpful to trim long hair to reduce the chance of foxtails latching on to your pet.

If you encounter a foxtail that has not yet embedded itself, calm your pet and carefully remove it using tweezers.

However, do not try to remove a foxtail from sensitive areas such as eyes, mouth, nose, inner ears, anus or genitals. We will happily help your pet and remove any threats. However, once a foxtail has embedded itself, sedation or anesthesia is often required to locate and remove every part (including microscopic portions) of the foxtail to prevent infection.

Act quickly if you believe your pet may have eaten, swallowed or inhaled foxtails. After removal of any foxtail, treatment may include flushing the impacted area, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medicine. Foxtails can be life-threatening as they can migrate to and impact internal organs, so please call us when any concerns arise.

Kirkwood Veterinary Doctors


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Please contact us immediately if you have any questions or concerns. Foxtails are significant threats during this time in our area and may result in serious health complications if left untreated. Please let us help keep your pet healthy and happy.