Foxtails are a type of seed cluster found in a small group of weed plants. They are commonly found in California, including foxtail grasses, barley, and millets. While these weeds may seem harmless, animal owners should be vigilant to keep their pets away from plant awns. Covered with microscopic projections, foxtails pose severe health risks to animals as they migrate into tissue causing abscesses and widespread infections.
The physical make-up of the foxtail stops it from reversing direction and exiting the body. The most common access points foxtails utilize to enter the body are through the nose, mouth, and ears, but they can also penetrate the skin causing wounds and subcutaneous abscesses.
In California, most foxtail cases are seen in the summer months after the grasses from the winter rains have dried out. In Three Rivers, foxtail cases start appearing in April and diminish by fall. However, cases can be seen throughout the year due to the warmer climate.
Tips regarding foxtails
—Avoid areas where foxtails grow in the summer to prevent exposure in dogs and cats.
—Be observant of where your dogs and cats walk and play. Foxtails and other grasses with barbed seeds commonly grow along roads, in backyards, and other places throughout the foothills.
—If your dog or cat shakes its head, squints and/or rubs at the eyes, or persistently sneezes after being in an area with foxtails, take the pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible as these are common signs of foxtails in ears, eyes and the nose. In general, retrieval of the foxtail is easier the sooner it is identified.
Autumn Davidson, DVM, practices at Lone Oak Veterinary Clinic in Three Rivers.