Foxtails Can be a Summer Health Hazard

Trish Consunji: 916-649-0599 (California Veterinary Medical Association)



Sacramento, CA – If Alfred Hitchcock had made a movie to scare pet owners, he might have called it “The Foxtails.” Many outdoor animals can suffer from these sharp stickers, warns the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).

Foxtails may get lodged around the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, coat, and paws. Pet owners should be aware of the following signs, which may indicate the presence of foxtails:

• Eye swollen shut or squinting with sticky discharge

• Sneezing or discharge from the nose, which may be bloody

• Repeated gagging or difficulty chewing or swallowing; not eating

• Putrid odor from the mouth, ears, or nose

• Head tilting, shaking, or scratching at the ears

• Continuous licking or nipping at the paws or other area

• Abscesses

• Open sores, which may be the remains of a burst abscess but can still have the foxtail inside

“At the first sign of a possible foxtail invasion, get your pet to your veterinarian immediately,” stresses CVMA past-president Dean Henricks, DVM. “Pet owners need to guard against further foxtail damage.”

Dogs seem to suffer most with these small seedpods because the foxtails become imbedded in their coats. Cats occasionally run into problems, but feline grooming generally eliminates the culprits. But all animals, including horses, are at risk of serious problems if they snort a foxtail into their nasal passages.

The CVMA recommends regular grooming of all pets that spend time outdoors. Without this, foxtails can become embedded in animals’ coats, eventually piercing their skin and causing infections. The sharp end points and microscopic barbs of foxtails ensure travel in only one direction – further inside the animal’s body. Once inside, foxtail removal becomes a surgical procedure and must be done by a veterinarian.


The California Veterinary Medical Association is the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, with more than 7,000 members. Founded in 1888, its mission is to serve its membership and community through innovative leadership and to improve animal and human health in an ethically and socially responsible manner.

© 2020 California Veterinary Medical Association

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