Ask the Vet: Foxtail Safety by Stefanie Wong, DVM

As we head from spring to summer, the green hills will gradually turn golden brown. This time of year is prime foxtail season. The foxtail (also referred to as grass awn) seems pretty harmless at first glance but it can be very dangerous to our pets.

What’s so bad about them?

The foxtail is designed by nature to embed itself in the soil. Like a fishhook, the foxtail very easily makes its way in and is designed to never back out – foxtails need to be manually removed. If left to their own devices, foxtails will continue to advance forward and bury themselves deeper and deeper in tissues. We have seen foxtails travel so far that they embed themselves within the lungs or spinal cord, which can be life threatening.

What are the signs of a foxtail?

Dogs will get these foxtails stuck in several spots:


  • Paws: If your pet starts limping, licking its paw constantly and develops a red fluid-filled bump in between its toes or somewhere in his/her paw, we recommend exploring it for a foxtail.

  • Nose: If you see sudden severe sneezing, then a foxtail may have worked its way up your dog’s nose. Unfortunately, it’s very rare that they will sneeze it out on their own. The sneezing can be so severe that they will start sneezing blood.

  • Ears: If your dog gets a foxtail in the ear, often they are very painful. They will suddenly hold their head to the side, cry out, shake their head and scratch at the ear. Often these are embedded deep in the ear canal, so you cannot see them just by looking at their ear. We need to look using an otoscope.

  • Mouth: This occurs especially if your dog likes to chew on long grasses; if they suddenly start hacking like they’re trying to get something up and repeatedly swallowing we may need to perform a sedated oral exam to make sure there isn’t a foxtail stuck in the back of their throat.

  • Eyes: If your pet starts suddenly squinting with severe swelling of the eye and green or yellow discharge, they may have a foxtail stuck in their eye – often it rubs on the surface of the eye creating an ulcer or superficial scratch over the cornea.

  • Skin: If you start to notice a rapidly growing fluid-filled swelling on your pet’s skin it may be an abscess (or pocket of infection) forming around a foxtail.

How do we get them out?

If we have a high suspicion for a foxtail, we may recommend sedation for your pet in order to perform a thorough search. Foxtails can be deeply embedded in tissues and can be a challenge to find and remove. Removal requires that your pet stay absolutely still – if they move suddenly we risk hurting them and the foxtail can move even deeper into the tissues and potentially out of reach.

How do I prevent this from happening?

  • Steer clear of tall grasses while hiking – do not let your pets run through them, chew on them or even sniff around them.

  • Right after you finish a hike, check your pet’s paws and coat for foxtails – if you catch them early while they’re still in your pet’s coat you can prevent them from becoming embedded.

  • Clear out foxtails, weeds or tall grasses from your backyard.

  • Keep your pet’s coat closely trimmed during the summer and fall so that foxtails are easier to spot on their coat and can be removed.

Tags: ask the vet, Stefanie Wong, DVM, foxtails

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