Foxtail in Dogs: Understanding the Dangers

icon November 2, 2023

Foxtails are a type of grass that produces seeds with a unique and dangerous design. The seeds are covered in tiny, barbed bristles that allow them to easily penetrate fur, skin, and even mucous membranes. These bristles work like one-way spears, making it easy for foxtails to become embedded in a dog's body. Once they lodge themselves, they can cause a wide range of health issues.

What Does Foxtail Look Like?

Foxtails are a type of grass seed that is named for their distinctive appearance, which resembles the tail of a fox. Foxtails have a cylindrical shape with a pointed tip, and they are covered in tiny barbs or bristles that allow them to easily stick to fur, clothing, or skin.

Foxtails are typically green when they are young, but they can turn brown as they mature and dry out. They are commonly found in tall grasses and weeds, and they can be particularly problematic in areas with dry or arid climates.

Foxtails are known for their ability to burrow into the skin, fur, or clothing of animals and people. This happens because of their shape and the barbs or bristles covering them. When a foxtail seed comes into contact with an object, it can easily attach itself and then work its way to the surface. The pointed tip and the barbs make it difficult for the foxtail to be removed once it has embedded itself.

Foxtails can cause a variety of problems when they burrow into an animal's skin or fur, including irritation, inflammation, and infection.

What Does Foxtail Look Like

Symptoms of an Embedded Foxtail in Dogs

Symptoms of an embedded foxtail in dogs may include:

  • Pain and discomfort: Dogs may exhibit signs of pain, discomfort, or irritation at the site of the foxtail entry.
  • Limping: If a foxtail has penetrated a dog's paw, they may limp or favor the affected leg.
  • Excessive licking or biting: Dogs may excessively lick or bite at the area where the foxtail entered their skin.
  • Swelling and redness: The site of entry may become swollen and red.
  • Pus or discharge: In some cases, an embedded foxtail can lead to the development of pus or discharge at the entry site.
  • Sneezing or coughing: If a foxtail becomes lodged in a dog's nasal passages or throat, they may exhibit sneezing, coughing, or gagging.
  • Head shaking or ear scratching: Foxtails can also get stuck in a dog's ears, leading to head shaking, ear scratching, or ear discharge.

Types of Foxtail Grass

Here are some common types of foxtail grass:

  • Green Foxtail (Setaria viridis): Green foxtail is an annual grass that is often considered a weed. It has bristle-like seed heads and is commonly found in agricultural fields and disturbed areas.
  • Yellow Foxtail (Setaria pumila): Yellow foxtail is another annual grass that produces yellowish seed heads. It is also considered a weed and can be found in similar habitats as green foxtail.
  • Giant Foxtail (Setaria faberi): Giant foxtail is an annual grass that can grow quite tall, hence the name "giant." It is considered a weed in agricultural settings and can be challenging to control.
  • Foxtail Barley (Hordeum jubatum): Foxtail barley is a perennial grass that produces distinctive, bushy seed heads with long awns. It is native to North America and is often found in prairies and open areas.
  • Bristly Foxtail (Setaria verticillata): Bristly foxtail is an annual grass with bristly seed heads. It is commonly found in waste areas, along roadsides, and in disturbed habitats.
  • Foxtail Millet (Setaria italica): Foxtail millet is an annual grass that is grown as a cereal crop in some regions. It has been cultivated for its edible seeds and is used in various culinary dishes.
  • African Foxtail Grass (Pennisetum setaceum): African foxtail grass is a perennial grass known for its attractive, feathery seed heads. It is often used as an ornamental grass in landscaping but can be invasive in some regions.
  • Siberian Foxtail Grass (Alopecurus sibiricus): Siberian foxtail grass is a perennial grass native to Eurasia. It has dense, cylindrical seed heads and is often found in wet meadows and along streams.
  • Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis): Meadow foxtail is a perennial grass native to Europe and Asia. It has cylindrical seed heads and is often grown as forage for livestock.
  • Canada Foxtail (Alopecurus canadensis): Canada foxtail is a perennial grass native to North America. It has bushy seed heads and is found in various habitats, including wetlands and grasslands.

Where Do Foxtails Grow Map?

  • North America: Foxtails are prevalent in North America, especially in the western United States. They are commonly found in states like California, Oregon, and Washington, where dry, grassy areas are common.
  • Australia: Australia has its own species of grasses that produce foxtails, and they can be found in various parts of the country with suitable habitats, particularly in arid and grassy regions.
  • South America: Foxtails can also be found in parts of South America with similar climates and vegetation, such as the grasslands of Argentina and other countries in the region.
  • Europe: In Europe, foxtails can be found in areas with suitable conditions, including Mediterranean regions and other dry, grassy habitats.
  • Asia: Foxtails are not limited to the Americas and can also be found in parts of Asia, including countries with arid or grassy environments.

How Does Foxtail Affect Dogs?

Foxtail can pose a significant health risk to dogs, as they have several characteristics that can lead to various health issues when ingested or when they come into contact with a dog's body. Here are some ways foxtails can affect dogs:


Dogs may ingest foxtails while exploring or chewing on grass and plants. Ingested foxtails can potentially cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.


Foxtail seeds can become airborne, and dogs may inhale them while sniffing or breathing in the vicinity of tall grasses where foxtails grow. Inhalation of foxtails can lead to respiratory issues, including coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

Ear Infections

One of the most common and serious issues associated with foxtails involves them getting lodged in a dog's ears. The shape and structure of foxtail seeds make them prone to getting trapped in a dog's ear canal. Once inside, foxtails can cause intense pain, inflammation, and infection. Signs of a foxtail ear infection may include head shaking, ear scratching, tilting of the head, and discharge from the affected ear.

Eye Injuries

Foxtails can also cause eye injuries if they come into contact with a dog's eyes. The sharp, barbed structure of foxtail seeds can lead to corneal abrasions, conjunctivitis, and eye discomfort. Signs of an eye injury from foxtails include excessive blinking, squinting, redness, and discharge from the affected eye.

Skin and Paw Issues

Foxtails can penetrate a dog's skin, paws, or between their toes. This can result in localized abscesses, swelling, and discomfort. Dogs may excessively lick or bite at the affected area, and you may notice a lump or sore.

Related: Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws

Internal Issues

In rare cases, if a foxtail is ingested, it can migrate internally and cause more severe issues, such as damage to internal organs or the respiratory and digestive tracts. This is relatively uncommon but can be life-threatening.

How to Remove Foxtail from Dog Paw?

Removing foxtails from a dog's paw can be important because foxtails are sharp, pointed grass seeds that can burrow into a dog's skin, causing pain, infection, and other health issues. Here are steps to safely remove foxtails from your dog's paw:

  • Gently grasp the foxtail with the tweezers or hemostats, try to get as close to the base of the foxtail as possible so you don’t accidentally break it and leave pieces behind in your dog’s skin.
  • Slowly and carefully pull the foxtail out in the same direction it entered, trying not to break it.
  • If the foxtail is deeply embedded or you're having trouble removing it, seek immediate veterinary assistance. Do not attempt to dig too deeply into the skin, as this can cause injury.
  • After removing the foxtail, use a clean towel or gauze to gently clean the affected area with warm water or mild skin spray.
  • Use the flashlight to inspect the affected paw carefully. Look for any signs such as increasing redness, swelling, discharge, or your dog licking the area excessively.

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How to Remove Foxtail from Dog Paw

How to Get Foxtail Out of Dog's Nose?

If you believe you can see the foxtail and it's visible, you can try to remove it carefully. Here's how:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and put on disposable gloves.
  • Get someone to help hold your dog still, or you can gently restrain your dog if they are cooperative.
  • Use a pair of clean, blunt-edged tweezers to carefully grasp the foxtail.
  • If you can't get a grip on it or if your dog becomes agitated, stop immediately and seek veterinary assistance.

Rinse the Nose: After removing the foxtail (if successful), you can gently flush your dog's nasal passages with saline solution to help ensure no small fragments remain.

If you are not confident in your ability to safely remove the foxtail or if your dog's symptoms are severe (e.g., difficulty breathing or intense pain), seek immediate veterinary assistance. Attempting to remove it yourself could worsen the situation.

How To Treat Foxtails in Dogs?

Keep a close eye on your dog for any signs of foxtail-related problems, which may include coughing, sneezing, pawing at the face, shaking the head, or limping. These symptoms may indicate that a foxtail has entered your dog's body and is causing discomfort, it's crucial to seek immediate veterinary care. Foxtails can migrate within the body and cause serious health problems if not removed promptly.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination to locate and remove any foxtails from your dog's body. Depending on the situation, they may use tools such as an otoscope, endoscope, or even surgery to remove foxtails that have migrated deep inside.

The Nefarious Foxtail

How to Prevent Foxtails in Dogs

Here are some steps you can take to prevent foxtails in dogs:

  • Avoid areas with foxtails: Be aware of where foxtails are commonly found and try to avoid letting your dog play or walk in tall grassy areas, especially during the foxtail season, which is typically in late spring and summer.
  • Keep your yard well-maintained: Regularly mow your lawn and remove tall grasses, weeds, and foxtails from your yard to reduce the risk of your dog coming into contact with them.
  • Use a leash: When walking your dog in areas where foxtails may be present, keep them on a leash to prevent them from wandering into tall grasses or other potentially risky areas.
  • Inspect your dog's coat: After outdoor activities, thoroughly check your dog's fur, ears, paws, and any other areas that may have come into contact with foxtails. Pay close attention to their ears, as foxtails can easily enter the ear canal.
  • Use protective gear: Consider using protective gear like dog boots and a doggie head net to cover your dog's paws and face when in high-risk areas.
  • Trim long fur: If your dog has long or thick fur, especially around their paws and ears, consider keeping it trimmed to reduce the chances of foxtails getting caught in their fur.
  • Clean and groom regularly: Regular grooming can help you spot and remove foxtails before they become a problem. Brush your dog's coat and inspect it for any signs of foxtails regularly.
  • Teach your dog to avoid foxtails: Training your dog to stay away from tall grasses and to respond to commands like "leave it" or "drop it" can help reduce their chances of coming into contact with foxtails.


Can a foxtail kill a dog?

Yes, foxtails can be dangerous for dogs. Foxtails are a type of grass seed that have barbed bristles, and they can pose a significant risk to dogs when they come into contact with them. Foxtails are common in many parts of the United States, particularly in the western states. Foxtails are known for their ability to work their way into a dog's nasal passages, ears, and other orifices. Once inside, they can cause inflammation, pain, and infection. In severe cases, foxtails can even migrate into a dog's brain, which can be life-threatening.

How do you know if your dog has a foxtail?

If your dog has a foxtail, you may notice symptoms like sudden and intense pawing or scratching at a specific area, persistent sneezing, coughing, or gagging, and signs of discomfort or pain. Foxtails are sharp, barbed grass seeds that can embed themselves in your dog's skin, ears, nose, or between their toes. If you suspect your dog has a foxtail, it's important to seek veterinary attention promptly to remove it and prevent complications.

Can a dog survive with a foxtail?

A dog can potentially survive with a foxtail embedded in their body, but it can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. Foxtails are sharp and can migrate deeper into a dog's tissues, causing infection, abscesses, and even organ damage in severe cases. 


It's essential for dog owners to be vigilant during foxtail season, which is typically in the late spring and summer when these grasses produce seed heads. Regularly check your dog's fur, ears, eyes, and paws after outdoor activities, especially if you live in an area where foxtails are prevalent. If you suspect that your dog has encountered foxtails or is displaying any signs of discomfort or infection, seek prompt veterinary care. Foxtails can be challenging to remove, and timely intervention is crucial to prevent complications.

Related: Dog Grass Seed in Paw, Nose and Ear



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