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Foxtail Grass — A Danger to Your Dog

By Marilyn Pokorney

If you have dogs, keep the foxtail out of your lawn!

Foxtail is a common annual grass usually considered a weed. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall, with branching and some spreading at ground level. Leaf blades are 4 to 15 inches long. Flower heads are dense spikes with yellow to reddish, green or purplish bristles. As foxtail matures, seeds are formed at the top of the stalk. The bushy seeds are what gives the plant the name of "foxtail."

The danger of foxtail seeds
When mature, the seeds detach easily from the plant. This
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is nature’s way of making sure that the plant reproduces. The seeds easily cling to clothing, fur and hair. The seeds always move forward thus penetrating the skin.

The seeds found in the ears, eyes and nose are very serious and can become life-threatening. But no body part is immune. The seeds have been found in the urethra, vagina, anal glands, brain and spinal cord of dogs. In one case a veterinarian found the seed in the lung, but the original site of entry was the paw. The seeds also gain entry through open wounds.

Symptoms of seed exposure
Foxtail seeds are very tiny, so veterinarians usually go by symptoms.

If in the nasal cavity, the dog sneezes repeatedly and violently, often hitting the nose on the floor. If a bloody discharge is noticed, assume it's a foxtail seed.

If in the eye, the dog paws at the eye and the eye waters. If an eye is glued shut, it is most likely a foxtail seed.

If the seed is in the ear, the dog shakes its head violently from side to side. Sometimes the dog paws a the eyes or ear, shaking the head and squinting.

In the mouth, foxtail seeds can cause gagging or difficulty swallowing. If the seed gets caught between the teeth, in the gums, back of throat or tongue, problems can result.

If the seed lodges in the paw or under the coat, a lump will form that is painful to the touch. Other symptoms include rubbing the head on the ground and going round in circles, licking or biting at the rectum or other body parts, or yelping or whining for no obvious reason.

Foxtail seeds can cause fatalities when they reach internal organs.

What can you do?
In any case, do not attempt to treat the animal yourself. Get professional help.

• Get rid of all foxtail in your lawn or yard. If foxtail grows in your yard, mow the grass often, especially in late spring when the plant grows most rapidly. This prevents the plant from ever setting seed.

• Avoid parks or other recreational areas where you know foxtail grows.

• Always brush and inspect your dogs coat after being in grassy areas. Dogs with long hair are even more likely to attract the seeds than short-haired breeds.

• Examine your dog’s eyes and ears.

For more information on how to control foxtail, visit

© Marilyn Pokorney

Marilyn Pokorney is a freelance writer on science, nature, animals and the environment. She enjoys crafts, gardening and reading. Visit her web site at

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