Foxtails

Seeds that Can Maim and Kill

Many Bay Area pet owners are not aware that from about April until after the first rains in autumn, their dogs and cats are exposed to the danger of foxtails and the barbed seeds of wild grasses.

Nature designed the foxtail to burrow its way into the earth - and burrow is what they do when they make contact with your pet. They work their way into any body opening, including ears and eyes, and can also penetrate the skin, especially between the toes and in the armpit. They can also be inhaled into the nostrils or become lodged in the teeth and jaws, causing abscesses and serious infections.

If your dog or cat exhibits any of the following symptoms, don't wait to see whether they go away! If it's caused by a foxtail, the problem will only get worse. Get your pet to a veterinarian right away.

A few things to watch for:

  • Pawing at the ears or eyes, with shaking of the head
  • Rubbing at the eyes, squinting or holding an eye shut, possibly with the presence of a pussy discharge
  • Rubbing the head on the ground
  • A bad odor coming from the mouth (foxtails can lodge in the lips, gums, or tonsils)
  • Wheeling in circles and licking and biting at the rectum, toes, or other parts of the body
  • Repeated, violent sneezing, sometimes accompanied by a bloody discharge, usually from one nostril
  • Yelping and whining for no obvious reason
  • Swollen, red bulges between toes
  • A raised, often red, infected spot that can be accompanied by drainage (clusters of these barbed seeds can penetrate the skin and cause deep wounds and abscesses). Foxtails can move through the body and penetrate the chest cavity and reproductive organs, sometimes with fatal results.

If you suspect your pet might be suffering from these barbed seeds, get professional help immediately. Leaving foxtail penetrations untreated can lead to complicated surgery or the death of your pet.

Last Updated: Apr 20, 2012
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