Foxtails are named after foxtail brome, a grass whose seed head is bushy like a fox’s tail. The term is used for any of the sharp stickers you might find poking into your socks after walking in a dry summer field.

Some foxtail problems can be prevented

If your dog has thick woolly hair, foxtails embedded in the coat will burrow through the skin and into his body. By the time you discover the problem, there may be dozens of foxtails that have become difficult or impossible to locate and remove. This can be prevented by careful daily combing or a close whole-body trim. The best time for trimming is just before the fields begin to turn brown and again six or eight weeks later.

Even for dogs with short hair, foxtails get started between the toes and burrow into the feet. This is a worse problem for Spaniels or other dogs with webbed toes, but happens with all breeds. Check your dog’s feet every day and remove foxtails before they burrow in. If your dog has long hair between his toes, have a groomer trim it out.

Other foxtail problems cannot be prevented

Nose foxtails

Sudden extremely severe sneezing, pawing at nose, possibly bleeding from nostril. Symptoms diminish after several hours, becoming intermittent.

Ear foxtails

Tilting and shaking head, pawing at ear, crying, moving stiffly.

Eye foxtails

Squinting eye suddenly-swelling accompanied by tears and mucous discharge.

Throat foxtails

Gagging, retching cough, compulsive grass eating, stretching neck and swallowing.

Foxtails in any of these locations must be removed by a veterinarian, and depending on their location, often require anesthesia.

Unfortunately, the common foxtail problems listed above aren’t the only ones. Foxtails can be inhaled or enter any body opening and travel long distances. They don’t show on x-rays and are sometimes impossible to surgically locate and remove. Foxtails are a serious health problem for dogs in Southern California this time of year. Please keep your dogs away from it whenever possible and eliminate foxtails from your yard.

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