HOW TO Treat Foxtails on Your Dog

dog in foxtailsWhile the tall, green grass that grows wild in fields might look harmless, when it dries out in the summertime, its bullet-shaped ends develop arrow-like barbs that can wreak havoc on dogs.

A foxtail (Hordeum Jubatum) can invade your dog’s body in several ways. It can penetrate his skin (most commonly between his toes), be inhaled or enter through his ear. Because of its sharp barbs, a foxtail can only move in one direction, which means it continues traveling ever deeper into your dog’s body.

“They ‘work in,’ but they don’t ‘work out,’” notes Curtis Clark in “Dog Owners’ Guide to California Foxtails.”

According to the Governor Animal Clinic website, “A foxtail can literally go anywhere in the dog. For example, they have been found inside the brain, anal glands, eyes, ears, jowls, feet, spinal cord, lungs and vagina.”

If a foxtail becomes lodged in your dog’s internal organs, it can become infected, causing life-threatening abscesses to grow.

While foxtails are most prevalent in the southwestern U.S., especially California, they can be found across North America. They are annuals that are soft and green through the winter but start drying out in late spring. Because of all the rainfall in western states this past winter, foxtails are now thriving.

For these reasons is it of vital importance to keep your yard free of foxtails, avoid them when you’re away from home and regularly inspect your dog’s coat and paws, especially if you have a long-haired dog.

What are the Signs that a Foxtail has Invaded My Dog?

Amy Carr, DVM, notes on the California Veterinary Specialists website that the symptoms vary, depending on the foxtail’s location on or in your dog’s body.

While foxtails can enter the skin anywhere, the most common areas are between the toes or through the ears.

You should take your dog to the vet immediately if he shows any of the following signs:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Frequently shaking his head
  • Squinting
  • Constantly licking his feet
  • Red and swollen toes
  • A puncture wound between his toes

How Do I Remove a Foxtail from My Dog?

“Removing foxtails in the stages of being merely irritating is relatively inexpensive,” Carr writes, while treating an abscess “can become a complicated and expensive process.”

If you find a foxtail on your dog, recommends carefully pulling it straight out of his fur, being careful not to break off any portion of it. Be sure to remove all the barbs, even those that are very tiny.

If the foxtail has penetrated your dog’s skin, you should not try to remove it at home. “Attempting to remove it on your own may cause even further damage and pain for the dog,” warns

In the case of an embedded foxtail, take your dog to the vet, who may need to use special tools or perform minor surgery to remove it. If there is an infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics.

In severe cases, the foxtail along with any abscesses it has created may need to be surgically removed from your dog’s internal organs. This is why it is so important to avoid foxtails and remove them before they can do any harm to your dog.

How Can I Prevent Foxtail Problems?


Veterinarians Carr and Janice Tobiassen, DVM, of, recommend taking the following prevention steps:

  • Be vigilant about checking between your dog’s toes every day.
  • Check for hair mats, where foxtails may be hidden.
  • Brush your dog every day.”This will help reduce grass seed accumulation and make for easier daily inspections,” writes Tobiassen.
  • Run your hands over your dog’s coat to feel for fox tails.
  • Keep the hair between your dog’s paw pads clipped to prevent foxtails from becoming entangled there.
  • If your dog has long hair, keep it trimmed short during the summertime.
  • Remove weeds from your yard. Be sure to pull them out instead of mowing them, which could spread the seed pods.
  • Avoid grassy fields and roadsides when you walk your dog.

PHOTOS: Paul Garland, Matt Lavin

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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