Fun with Foxtails


OK…I’m kidding. There’s absolutely nothing fun about foxtails. In fact, I’d rank foxtails right alongside ticks as among the most despised realities of life with animals here in Southern Oregon. Every year about this time, the rain stops and the grass turns from green to brown.  One particular type of grass, commonly known as ”cheatgrass” (Bromus tectorum—an invasive species, by the way), develops seed heads that dry out and disperse a profusion of agents of misery and pain known as foxtails.

These angular winged-shaped, pointed-tip seeds most commonly penetrate the cavities between a dog’s toes, but are able to make their way into ANY body orifice—mouth, eyes, nose, ears…you name it. Cats and livestock can be occasionally affected by them too. Due to their uniquely nefarious shape, foxtails are able to move in only one direction: forward. They migrate deep into body cavities and tissues and cause, as you would expect, severe discomfort and a dramatic inflammatory response. A foxtail in the foot will result in visible swelling, redness and pain in the webbed area between a dog’s toes. If they get into the tissue around the eye, they can cause severe irritation and even an ulcer on the surface of the eye. In the nose, dramatic and frequent sneezing results. Any dog that suddenly starts shaking its head this time of year is highly likely to have a foxtail in its ear canal. A gagging dog could very well have foxtails that have penetrated the tissue around the tonsils. I’ve even seen foxtails migrate through the upper mouth behind the molars and cause an abscess behind the eye.
Treatment for foxtails involves removal from the affected site, and frequently requires sedation by a veterinarian, and sometimes surgery. I have been able to non-surgically treat some dogs with foxtails between their toes by having the guardians soak the dog’s foot in warm epsom salts and giving a homeopathic remedy called silica, which encourages the body to push out the offending object. Antibiotics alone are not effective because they may temporarily decrease the associated infection, but not the foxtail itself.

So what’s the best way for you and your animals to avoid foxtail problems altogether? Most obviously, it’s important to know what cheatgrass looks like a
nd prevent your animal’s contact with it. For those who live in town, this means keeping your dogs on leash while on walks and out of areas where cheatgrass grows. You might even have cheatgrass in your yard—it likes to grow along fencelines. It’s very difficult to get rid of, and mowing or weed whacking alone doesn’t help much. It seems that as short as you can cut it, it rapidly grows another seed head. While some folks might resort to herbicides, I feel we already have too many toxins in our environment, and would advocate non-chemical control methods. Mowing with a grass catcher is essential to remove the foxtails from the area and prevent re-seeding. Amending the soil in affected areas and planting with other more desirable grasses to outcompete the cheatgrass can be effective over time.
If you live on a larger rural property, striving to completely avoid foxtails is not very practical. Our Goldendoodle has the run of our property, so we always keep him trimmed short in the summer months, and check between his toes and inside ear flaps every night. Even with our diligence, foxtail problems can occur, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms. Quick veterinary attention can mean the difference between a quick inexpensive procedure and a much more serious and expensive one.

Enjoying the outdoors with your animals is one of the great things about living in Southern Oregon. Be careful, and hopefully you won’t have any foxtail “fun” this summer.



Dr Judkins is the owner of Animalkind Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Historic Jacksonville

There are 10 comments left Go To Comment

  1. Casey /

    My dog had a foxtail. We pulled it out of her paw. Since then, like a month now she has been getting these red sores up her paw. 2 sores. The vet sedated her did a flush. Got better but last week another one came up a little further up the leg. Yesterday a 2nd one came up besides this one. At what point do you get a ct scan to see if anything else is there. Seems there is. But I heard you can’t see it on a scan only the tracks. How do you get it out if you can’t see it? It just isn’t getting any better. Something is causing these sores.

    1. Dr J / Post Author

      Some dogs have cysts between their ties that have nothing to do with foxtails…so you can’t assume it’s slways foxtail related. I usually recommend soaking affected feet in Epsom salts and administering a homeopathic remedy to encourage the body to push foxtails out…so I never need surgery for these. Cysts between to toes is a whole other complicated chronic condition.

      1. Alexandria Andrews /

        How much epsom salt would you recommend to add to a warm water soak? And what homeopathic remedies do you usually recommend?

        1. Dr J / Post Author

          You cant overdo the Epsom salts. Any extra will not dissolve, so keep adding salt to hot waster until its not dissolving anymore. I use homeopathic silica 30c 3 time a day until the foxtail comes out.

          1. Carol /

            Hello dr. Can you please tell me how much to give each time to a 45 lb dog? THANK YOU so much for thus tip!

          2. Dr J / Post Author

            Homeopathics are not based on weight/ volume, so dosage doesn’t really matter. Frequency of dosage and potency of the remedy do matter, thigh. I recommend you get a good book on homeopathy to understand better.

          3. Carol /

            And ps… How do you distinguish a cyst from a foxtail pls? My 15 yo girl has developed two inflamed raised areas just below the nail bed… On two of her toes. One on outside toe of left front paw snd other on outside toe of keft rear paw… Both are in between toes and below a nailbed. I’ve been spraying with topical calendula/aloe spray and just started yesterday soaking in ES. A lot if the really red coloring has gotten better… And the pain seems to have subsided … But they are still red and the hair is gone over these raised area. Initially bith were a little weepy, but seems to have subsided.

            It’s just super strange. She’s never had foot problems… And is healthy except for hips getting stiffer. Im giving her natural supplements fir that which help her a lot. She walks just fine. It is possible she may have encountered some dried foxtail seedheads while outside, but i tried really hard to eliminate them in spring… But as you say it’s almost impossible. I live in the country with dirt roads and weeds everywhere along the roads

            Ty so much for any ideas. Im going to buy homeopathic silica tomorrow regardless.

            Just wondering how to distinguish a cyst.

          4. Dr J / Post Author

            Not many foxtails this time of year, so lily that is something else.

  2. Deb /

    While I don’t know much about cheat grass I do know that standard foxtail plants are pretty easy to deal with. I just pull them by hand in the spring. They have very short roots and when the ground is still soft they pop up like butter. They only spread by seed, so once you get the whole rootbed out they don’t come back. I was quite surprised that I cleared out an acre of foxtail with just a bit of pulling as I walked it the field every other day or so in the early spring. I never even broke a sweat. They never came back. Now I just get a few that pop up here and there.

    1. Debbie /

      Thank-you! Pulling foxtail from our 1/2 acre back yard felt overwhelming. I will attempt this next Spring!

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