Dogs and Foxtails: A Dangerous Duo

By Jack Rubinger

Foxtail is a grass-like weed that’s popping up everywhere in parking strips and yards. The weed is out there in abundance in all our parks and trail systems, as well as our neighborhoods. Those who often visit Powell Butte for adventures report they are everywhere in the tall grass out there.

Often, when there are properties for sale, there are foxtails in the parking areas. Professional dog walkers report that this is a problem especially for long hair or curly coats. 

“What I teach in my Pet First Aid and CPR classes regarding foxtails and our pets is to avoid them if possible. However, we all know this is not an easy task. We always check our dogs’ fur after hiking or walking for evidence of foxtails,” said Janis Sandlin from Surf’s Pup Dog Walking and Dog Adventure Services.  

“They are most commonly found in the paws, nose and ears but they can also penetrate the genitalia and the eyes. If they are found in the fur they can be easily removed with a simple comb. If they look like they might be partially embedded into the skin, tweezers can be used to pull them out,” she said. “If it’s in any way lodged in the skin or you suspect that it has entered the animal’s body, get to a veterinarian immediately.”

These tough seed heads do not break down inside a pet’s body and they can cause serious infection and death. If not detected and treated, it is possible for foxtail seeds to travel inward to the heart, lungs or brain.   

Signs that an animal may have picked up a foxtail, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), include limping; swollen foot pads; incessant scratching or licking (particularly of feet or genitals); head shaking or tilting; eye discharge, swelling or redness; and nose discharge or frequent sneezing. 

According to PETA, while long-haired dogs are at a higher risk of foxtails’ aggressive attacks, short-haired dogs with open, upright ears are also especially vulnerable, as the barbs can sail directly into the ear canal. April Shahum, Portland Dachshund Rescue, said, “We have taken one stray with foxtails embedded in armpits, side and paws and one dog with an abscess in jaw because of foxtails, but no inhalation cases that we know of.”

Veterinarians agree that foxtail, when inhaled, can go in the nose or also to the lungs causing infections. Festering wound situations can penetrate the spine. 

“Foxtails aren’t much of an issue for outdoor cats, and once we rescue cats, they are placed in indoor-only homes, so their foxtail days are over. County public shelters are mostly likely to be dealing with the issues,” said Carma Crimins, Animal Rescue & Care Fund.

Preventing foxtails in parking strips can be done with pre-emergent and post emergent herbicides to eradicate it but many people are opposed to using herbicides, for good reason. We should all be careful of all the chemicals we use, synthetic or organic, as they can make an impact on our environment and health. How many people actually read the labels and SDA sheets on the products they use around their home? And do they follow the directions and wear the proper PPE?

Donna Giguere, a local landscape designer said, “I do not recommend herbicides because they are bad for humans, bees, birds, pets and the environment. Weeds tend to move into disturbed areas rather than landscaped areas.” 

One non-herbicidal method is to spray white vinegar on foxtails within two weeks of emergence and is very effective at eradicating it. An even better option is to carefully dig them out by hand before they start dropping seeds. Put them directly into a garbage can, not the compost bin, a disposal method that won’t allow the spread of its seeds.

We all love our friendly, furry friends. Keep them away from foxtails whenever possible. Make sure your lawns are safe and free from these nasty weeds. Contact your veterinarian immediately with questions and treatment for foxtails.

Image by Whole Dog Journal

Dogs and Foxtails: A Dangerous Duo

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