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The Danger of Foxtails to Dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

If you are a dog owner in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the biggest threats to your canine companion might be right under your feet. Foxtails, a common type of grass-like weed, pose a significant risk to dogs due to their barbed seed heads. With the growing prevalence of foxtails, it's essential to understand why they are dangerous and what steps you can take to protect your pets.


White and brown French Spaniel standing in a field of foxtail plants
French Spaniel in a field of foxtail plants

Imagine you're having a lovely day in San Francisco, strolling through Golden Gate Park with your furry best friend. Suddenly, your dog starts to limp or keeps shaking its head. You notice your pup has picked up an unwanted hitchhiker, a foxtail!


Understanding Foxtails

Foxtails are plants that have barbed awns or seed heads. Dogs may pick up a grass awn on an ear, eye, mouth, nose, or even between their toes. These awns can burrow directly into their skin, creating a dangerous situation.


These spiky little invaders are a common sight in San Francisco during the spring and summer. They're like little porcupine quills that can sneak into your dog's fur and even pierce their skin, causing a whole world of discomfort and even serious harm.



What foxtail grass looks like up close


Why Are Foxtails Dangerous to Dogs?


Foxtails can cause serious harm to dogs, especially if they become lodged in the skin, ears, eyes, or other parts of the body. They can even be inhaled and cause life-threatening conditions.


If a dog inhales foxtail, it can lead to pneumonia. The barbs on the seeds allow the seed to continuously move forward, traveling inside the dog from the nose to the brain or into a lung, and spreading bacteria that cause infections. The sharp, barbed area of the foxtail can perforate a dog's skin, leading to infection. Once embedded, the foxtail needs to be removed, often by a veterinarian, and the dog is typically treated with antibiotics.


No matter which pathway the foxtail uses to get into your dog’s body, once inside, the foxtail can migrate to your dog’s lung(s) or brain or cause an infection all which can be fatal - PetCamp


Foxtails in the San Francisco Bay Area


Foxtails are prevalent in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially during the California drought. They appear earlier in the season and stay longer than in previous years. It used to be a concern for just a month or two a year, but currently, they are present for six months a year or more.


foxtail growing on a city street in Pacific Heights, San Francisco
Foxtail in Pacific Heights along a popular route for dog walkers

Symptoms of Foxtail Exposure

Dogs exposed to foxtails can exhibit symptoms that include swelling between the toes, limping, or licking one area of the foot. Other signs are scratching at an ear, head shaking and tilting, pawing at a red, swollen eye, frequent sneezing and nasal discharge, as well as repetitive coughing. Persistent licking of the genitals can also be a symptom.


How to Protect Your Dog from Foxtails


Now, you're probably asking, "What do I do to protect my dog from these nasty foxtails?" And don't worry, there are a few straightforward steps you can take:

  1. Trim your dog’s hair during foxtail season. Keep your dog's fur short, especially around the paws. This reduces the chances of a foxtail getting lodged. The San Francisco SPCA also recommends keeping your dog’s coat short during the spring and summer, especially around the feet. There are groomers who will do a “foxtail cut” if requested.

  2. Avoid areas where foxtails or other tall grasses grow (e.g. fields of tall grass or groupings around trees throughout the city). For dogs who love to run free and explore, a foxtail field guard is a worthwhile investment.

  3. Check your dog for visible seeds, especially between their toes and around the ears. These are favorite hideouts for foxtails. This should be done during each walk, and after.

  4. Remove any barbed awns before they start to burrow with a brush or tweezers.

  5. Observe your dog's behavior. If your dog starts sneezing uncontrollably, squinting, or shaking its head during or right after a walk, there might be a foxtail involved. Don't hesitate to call your vet.

  6. If you have a yard, keep it clear from foxtails and other tall grasses.

  7. Take your dog to a vet if the foxtail awn is embedded and surrounded by red and swollen skin, or if your dog starts to exhibit strange symptoms of illness, especially sneezing or breathing problems. Many pet insurance policies, such as AKC, include Accident and Illness coverage, which can help you focus more on the health of your pet and less on costly veterinary bills.


Just remember, even on a calm day in the park, foxtails can get caught in the wind and land on your pet's coat or paws. So, always keep a close eye on your canine friends during foxtail season and ensure their safety by staying vigilant and proactive. We at Pawsitive Strides wish you a safe and fun summer with your furry friend in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you have questions, or need dog sitting or dog walking services, please don't hesitate to reach out!

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