The Danger of Foxtails in Dogs Paw, Legs, and Tail (and What to Do!)

Laura Day

August 7, 2019

The Danger of Foxtails in Dogs Paw, Legs, and Tail

I know what you might be thinking and the answer is no, not actual tails from foxes. Foxtails are plants that have barbs on them that can get stuck in your dog’s flesh, especially the tail, paws, and legs (and even sometimes in the ears and nose).

It isn’t as simple as just picking them off and going about your merry way, though. These little spiky fiends can actually be very dangerous and cause multiple medical issues in your dog’s body.

What can you as a dog owner do when your pup gets a barb from a foxtail on his poor little legs? Why is it so dangerous? All of these questions are about to be answered, so don’t go anywhere!

Why are Foxtails Dangerous to Dogs?

When a foxtail barb gets stuck in a dog’s skin and stays there, it can cause a nasty infection that needs immediate medical attention before it gets worse. It is difficult for owners to locate these foxtail burrs because a dog’s fur may hide them or they are stuck in different places that you may not think to look.

If you are feeling lost and confused as to how to best find the barbs on your pup, read ahead for a pretty great guide!

How to Find Foxtail Barbs on Your Dog

It can be tricky to successfully find all of the foxtails that may have gotten stuck to your dog and embedded in the skin and fur. Read below to get a better idea of where to look first.

Paws

After you look at the paw pads on your pup’s feet first, you should look in between the toes. If there may be a foxtail stuck in your dog’s paw, you will notice that he is limping, or licking the area. He may even bite at his toes if the pain is severe enough. Any of these is cause for alarm and he should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Legs

Dogs sometimes have long, thick fur on their legs so you might be combing through it for a while. If you still can’t find anything, make sure you check the bottom of his legs very carefully. If the puppy is licking his legs or refuses to get up and move around, the foxtails could certainly have gotten embedded in the sensitive skin there.

Tail

When foxtails get stuck to a dog’s tail, he may not even feel it unless there is not a lot of fur there to speak of. If he does feel it, though, he may chase his tail more often or yelp if you touch it, as it can be quite painful to touch. Be careful; dogs often lash out when they are scared and can’t see what you are doing, especially if it causes them any pain. For your dog’s health, get him to the vet right away.

Where Do Foxtails Grow?

Where Do Foxtails Grow

Foxtails grow mostly in a few different general areas. If any of these describe where you live, be on the lookout for them when walking or playing with your dog. Maybe you will be able to avoid them altogether once you know!

  • Salt marshes
  • Grasslands (watch out for tall grass)
  • Flatlands
  • Western prairies
  • Roadsides (especially those with lots of weeds)
  • Trails

What Happens When Foxtails Are Not Removed?

If the foxtail is not removed in time, things could get worse than just an infection, as scary as that might be on its own. When foxtails stay embedded in a dog’s skin, he could develop abscesses and swelling. If the foxtail travels to the interior of his body, it could even kill him.

Without the worst case scenarios, there will still be quite a bit of swelling and pain involved. You should treat your pup as gently as possible if you find one stuck anywhere on his body.

What You Can Do

There are measures you can take to prevent foxtails from hurting your hound, and there are things you can do if he is already hurt as well! Let’s go over both so you can get yourself and your dog out of this sticky situation (literally).

Prevention

  • All throughout foxtail season (typically May through December), check your dog’s coat, skin, paw pads, ear canal, and all other body parts carefully (even check his nasal passage occasionally). Brush through his fur, comb through with your fingers, have him groomed, etc. This will ensure that as little foxtails as possible stick to him.
  • Remember to look between the toes of your pup’s paws!
  • Keep out of overgrown grass if it can be helped. This is where the foxtails are. If you don’t go into an area where there might be foxtails, you will not have to worry about the whole mess in the first place!

After Finding Foxtails On Your Dog

If the time has come and passed for prevention and there is a foxtail embedded in your dog’s paws, legs, or tail, you have a couple of options as for what to do.

  • Carefully use a pair of tweezers to remove the tails, being careful not to leave a piece broken off in the skin. Do not use your hands. For one thing, you could spread nasty germs onto the wound, and you will have a little less control and preciseness if you use your fingers. It could also end up poking you, too. What a disaster!
  • Go to the vet! Really, you should do this anyway just in case infection has started in the wound on your poor doggy. The vet will know exactly what to do and how to best treat the wound before it gets worse. It may not even cost you that much this time around because a foxtail wound could be fairly minor if caught early.

It is incredibly important to be wary of foxtails and the danger that they could pose for your dog or any other pet you may have. Not many pet owners know about them, but everyone should. Watch for unusual symptoms with your dog’s health and check for foxtails. Help spread awareness if you live in an area where foxtails may be just waiting to prick some sweet dog’s paw! For more information on foxtails and your dog, check out this page and read it over when you get concerned.


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And remember, puppyhood is fast and is gone before you know it. Make sure to savor the time when your pup is young, and take lots of pictures along the way!