Foxtails may look pretty but they can be dangerous for your dog.
Foxtails is a generic name for many types of tall, swaying grasses with clusters of spiky, arrow-shaped hairs. They look like the tail of a fox …
Grasses with foxtails are all around North America. But they’re most common in the Western US states, especially in California.
The fluffy clump on top of the plant is made up of a multitude of tiny seeds. Each cluster of seeds is connected to a barb. When the wind carries the seeds, they fall to the ground, where the barb hooks into the soil.
The barb keeps the seed cluster in place … then bacteria start to break down the cellular matter into the soil. This process helps bury the seed in the ground so it can germinate and grow a new foxtail plant.
Foxtails Are Harmful For Dogs
Because of the barbs, if your dog picks up foxtail seeds, they can get dangerously lodged in several parts of his body.
They can get into the ear canal, nose, or mouth. They can penetrate through the pad of the foot. They can even get into the body through a patch of dry skin.
Foxtails can cause skin damage and a great deal of irritation, And they can also cause excruciating pain for your dog.
Even worse … they can lead to severe infection if they’re left inside your dog’s body.
- The seed can get deep into the ear canal and even into the ear drum.
- They can get into your dog’s eye.
- Seeds can travel up through a limb, causing abscesses along the way.
- They can work their way from your dog’s nose into his brain or lungs.
- They can get embedded along the backbone, or into many other places in his body.
This problem happens more in the summer months … when the seeds of the plants become dry and brittle. The dry seeds stick to your dog’s coat or pads of his feet more easily.
Sometimes they can work their way out, but often they need to be removed manually.
Related: Can Your Dog Get Heat Stroke?
The Signs Your Dog Has A Foxtail
Check for foxtails if you notice any of these signs in your dog, especially after a walk near tall grasses.
In Your Dog’s Eyes
If your dog has a foxtail stuck in his eye, you may notice:
- Pawing or rubbing his face
- Irritated, red, hot or swollen around the orbit or corner of his eye
- Swelling along the bridge of the nose or around the eye
In Your Dog’s Ears
There might be a foxtail in your dog’s ear if you notice:
- Sudden and extreme irritation in the ear
- Scratching or shaking his head violently, trying to dislodge the seed
- Rubbing the ear with his paws
- Tilting the head
- Rubbing his ear on the ground incessantly
- Ear is red, swollen and painful to touch
A Foxtail In Your Dog’s Mouth Or Nose
The signs that your dog might have a foxtail stuck in his mouth or nose are:
- Pawing at or rubbing his mouth
- Pawing at or rubbing his lips
- Pawing at his nose
Signs Of A Foxtail In Your Dog’s Paw
If your dog has a foxtail stuck in his paw, you may notice the following signs:
- Favoring the affected paw
- Licking the pad
- After a few days, his paw could become red, warm and swollen
- There may be an abscess already forming
Sometimes it could take weeks before you notice the damage the seed has caused. If that happens and you don’t remove the foxtail promptly, it can travel up from the pad to the inside of his leg.
How To Remove Foxtails From Your Dog
If you catch foxtails quickly, you can often get them out of your dog using tweezers.
But foxtails can penetrate fast, and then become deeply embedded.
When this happens, conventional veterinarians will remove foxtails surgically … usually under local anesthesia.
But there’s an easier way to get foxtails out of your dog’s body!
Homeopathic remedies can solve the problem gently and effectively … without surgery!
These are the remedies I find most useful in dealing with foxtails.
Aconite 30C: Use this remedy if your dog seems to be in shock, distressed, or is just showing abnormal behavior. Dose him every 15 minutes, up to 4 to 6 doses, until you see improvement.
Chamomilla 30C: If the slightest bit of touch causes pain and your dog is crying out, Chamomilla can help. Dose as above.
Hepar Sulphuris 30C: This remedy could help if you notice an infection. The Hepar patient appears to be chilly. He may be very sensitive to pain. Hepar will help draw an abscess to a head, helping to draw the infection out. Dose 2-3 pellets 3 times daily. Stop the remedy when you notice improvement.
Silica 30C or 6C: Silica (also called Silicea) can help bring the seed to the surface. Dose 2-3 pellets of Silica 30C or 6C, 3 times daily. Stop the remedy once you notice improvement.
Note: Silica promotes expulsion of foreign bodies from tissues. (You can use it for things like splinters too.) It’s often a successful remedy choice … but it can sometimes take a couple of weeks or longer for the foxtail to surface.
One Foxtail Experience
I had a case where a Bulldog had a hot and swollen paw. The owner wasn’t sure what had happened. All she could tell me was that the paw looked infected.
I asked if they had foxtails or ornamental grasses growing in their yard. She confirmed she did. So, with those clues, I prescribed Silica 30C.
Within a few days, the dog’s paw was back to its normal size. The owner noticed the seed dislodged from in between her dog’s toes.
Aqueous Solutions For Foxtails
Sometimes you may need to use an aqueous (water) solution of your remedy.
- Dissolve the remedy in 3 ounces of spring water
- “Succuss” it by stirring about 10 times
- Or, if you make the solution in a glass bottle, shake it or pound on the palm of your hand about 10 times
If your dog has a foxtail seed in his foot, you could also soak the foot in this aqueous solution of warm water and Silica. It can help draw out the foreign matter as well as soothe inflammation.
Removing A Splinter
Once my son had a splinter in his finger that I couldn’t remove. I soaked his finger in an aqueous solution of Silica. I placed a bandage over the affected area, and the next morning the splinter was painlessly expelled – lying on the bandage pad.
Dosing Homeopathic Remedies
- Try not to touch the remedies with your hands
- Tip two or three pellets out of the container cap into your dog’s mouth. (Pulling out his lower lip near the corner of his mouth is a good place to do this)
- Try to give the remedies about 20 minutes or more away from food, in a clean mouth
A Note About Foxtails In The Eyes
For eyes, follow the homeopathic recommendations above.
Be sure your dog doesn’t paw at his eye. If he does, he may need to wear an E-collar until the seed comes out. Otherwise he could scratch his cornea or other delicate parts of the eye.
It can be hard to stop your dog from coming into contact with foxtails … especially in spring and summer.
But you can take some precautions that can help …
- Avoid large stands of foxtail if you see them on walks.
- Inspect your dog after your walks – give him a good check over for seed clusters.
- Pay extra attention to your dog’s feet … to stop seed clusters from getting stuck between his toes and causing an abscess.
- Examine his ears, around his eyes, in his nose, and around his genitals.
- Go over your dog’s whole body with a brush or comb just in case there are any seed clusters you didn’t see (especially if you have a long-haired dog).
If you do find a foxtail seed cluster, be very careful in removing it. Use a pair of tweezers and be sure to get the barb as well as the seed.
If your dog develops signs of swelling or irritation, or if the barb has become too deeply embedded to remove with tweezers, try the homeopathic remedies I listed above.
Otherwise, call your homeopathic practitioner or holistic veterinarian for advice.