Brought to California in the bellies of Spanish cattle, foxtails, (Hordeum murinum), also known as wild barley, are a serious threat to dogs’ health and can be fatal. Foxtails, quite common on East Bay trails, become most dangerous from the dry spells of spring through the rains of fall. As the seed heads dry and harden they come easily off their grassy stems and imbed themselves in dog paws, noses, eyes, and even through the fur and into the skin. Because foxtail seeds have sharp points at one end and small barbs along the sides of the seedpod, they are able to move in one direction inside of the dog’s body. Once inside the body of the dog, foxtail seeds will continue moving through the muscles and soft tissue of the dog and end up lodged in the lungs, heart, spine, or even brain, where they can cause fatal damage.
Foxtail Prevention and First Aid for Dogs
We can all take steps to alleviate the potential risks of foxtails to dogs. All of our pups wear Outfox brand foxtail masks in the summers as soon as the Oakland hills start to turn golden. I’m all about prevention and foxtail hoods are where it’s at. Foxtail hoods allow the dog to pant, drink water, and even play fetch with those way-too-big-for-you sticks all while protecting your pup from dangerous foxtail seed pods in the eyes, up the nose or in their ears.
Walk your dogs in areas that have little or no grass growing, such as some of the densely shaded trails of Redwood Park and Sibley . Graham trail off of the Redwood Bowl and Skyline Trail in Sibley Vocanic Preserve are two of my favorites. A good dog walker will check their dogs over after each walk to remove foxtails and any other debris stuck in their fur or pads.
Dog owners should regularly brush out their dog’s fur and keep the coat free of mats. Foxtails may fall out of smooth hair but will stick in matted fur and travel through mats into the skin. Give your pup a spring “foxtail trim”, cutting the fur near paws, the full length of the leg, near the ears, and around the anus. You can use the blow dryer at your local pet bathhouse to blow the seeds out of your pet’s fur. (Be sure to use cold air and do NOT let your dog try to “catch” the seedpods that come out.)
Watch for any unusual behavior such as uncontrollable sneezing, continuously shaking the head, whining, pus or limping. If you suspect a foxtail, take your dog to the vet immediately and tell your vet that your dog has contact with foxtails.