Close up view of a field of green foxtails

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Have you ever been walking in the great outdoors and noticed small, stubborn seed balls stuck to your shoes, socks, or clothes? These are likely foxtail seeds from the foxtail plant. It’s a type of weedy grass in the family Poaceae.1

Other plants in this family include bamboo, barley, bluegrass, millet, oat grass, and rye.1 Foxtail plants have several clusters of spiky seeds at the top that somewhat resemble their namesake, the bushy tail of a fox. The seeds are barbed in order to easily stick to new soil, where they burrow down to start the growth process again.

Foxtail seeds can get stuck to your dog’s fur or skin quite easily. It’s even worse news if your pup inhales one, as their spikey structure allows them to consistently travel forward once inside the body. This means that if one gets stuck in your dog's nasal passage it can quickly travel to the lungs or other vital organs, which is extremely dangerous.2

Embedded foxtail seeds are stubborn and won’t dislodge or dissolve without manual removal. If a seed gets stuck on your dog’s skin or fur it may cause pain and irritation and should always be removed as quickly as possible to prevent more serious complications. Read more to learn about what to do if your dog comes into contact with foxtail seeds and what to look out for when walking outside with your furry friend.

Basic information about foxtails

What Are Foxtails?

Meadow foxtail is native to Eurasia and North America, standing about 12-30 inches high with a light green flower cluster.1 It’s especially ubiquitous in California and the western part of the country in the summer months. However, this grass plant can also be seen in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, even during the spring or fall. Foxtail grows well in both moist and dry soils and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions. It’s commonly found in backyards, along roadsides, woods, ditches, fields, and other undisturbed areas.3

While the grassy part of foxtail is a harmless weed, the tiny seeds can pose a serious threat to pets, especially dogs. The seeds don’t discriminate and can easily burrow down into any material, whether it’s soil, skin, or fur. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with foxtail to ensure that your pup doesn’t accidentally get near it. Avoid long grass when possible and keep your dog on a leash when walking in areas where foxtail might be present.

Exposure to foxtail seeds can result in: tissue damage, abscesses, cysts, widespread infections

Why Are Foxtails Dangerous To Dogs?

Covered with microscopic projections, foxtails pose several serious health risks to animals. They move easily through the skin and the body, causing tissue damage like abscesses, cysts, and widespread infections. The barbed structure of foxtail seeds prevents it from being naturally removed from the body like some other organisms.

Foxtail seeds usually enter a dog’s body through the nose, mouth, and ears, but can also get in through the skin, causing open wounds and infections.4 Once they find their way into the body, foxtail seeds start to wreak havoc on internal tissue. This is particularly dangerous if it reaches vital organs. Foxtails can also get caught in a dog’s eyes, genital area, and coat. Dogs with longer fur are more vulnerable.5

Signs of foxtails in dogs

Signs Of Foxtails In Dogs

Be on the lookout for these common signs of foxtails in your dog, which can indicate a seed in the ears, nose, or face:

Your dog might also show other signs of a foxtail, particularly if it’s stuck in another part of the body. If there’s one around your dog’s feet or in between their toes, you might notice excessive licking or limping. A foxtail in or near the eyes will likely result in redness, itching, discharge, swelling, squinting, or pawing at the eyes. Persistent or excessive licking of the genital area could indicate a foxtail, too.2

What To Do If Your Dog Has A Foxtail

Unfortunately, your dog may encounter foxtails during their daily adventures, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. The shorter your dog’s coat, the easier it will be to spot embedded foxtail seeds. If you do find one, use tweezers to carefully remove it, then wash with water and clean with antiseptic to help prevent infection.

Try to discourage your dog from licking or gnawing at the area, as this can cause further irritation — applying a bandage can help. Continue to monitor the wound over the next few days and take your pup to the vet if you notice any signs of infection, such as swelling or discharge. Your vet can also advise you on what to do if your dog won’t leave the wound alone.6

There are steps you can take to help prevent your furry friend from coming into contact with foxtails:

  • Keep your dog’s coat short during the spring and summer months, especially around their toes. Some professional groomers will do a special “foxtail cut” if the owner requests it.
  • Check your dog after every walk or outdoor play session. Remove any plant material that you spot on their body. Use tweezers to remove foxtail barbs.
  • Keep an eye on your dog. Call your vet if your pooch suddenly starts sneezing a lot, squinting, or shaking their head.
  • Don’t let your dog run freely through tall grass or fields where foxtail might be growing. This is the best way to prevent foxtails, although the seeds can easily get carried through the air on windy days, so it’s always best to check your dog.

Foxtails can become dangerous plants if they enter into your dog’s body. Always seek veterinary help if you suspect that your dog has foxtail-related symptoms.6


What happens if a dog sniffs a foxtail?

It can quickly lead to infection. If foxtail enters the body it has the potential of causing life threatening damage to internal tissue.

What time of year do foxtails grow?

Mostly during the spring and summer, typically starting in May. However, they are also present in the fall.

What states have foxtails?

Mostly California, but they are prevalent throughout the U.S.

Happy dog

Final Notes

Foxtails can be very harmful to dogs, especially if inhaled. The seeds of the foxtail plant are barbed and spikey, so they won’t naturally dissolve or fall off once they have gotten stuck on something. This can lead to harmful consequences, like skin infections, abscesses, and more serious internal infections if left untreated.

It’s important to always check your dog’s body and fur after every walk to make sure that they don’t have any foxtail seeds on them. Once these seeds penetrate the skin, they quickly migrate to other areas of the body. If it gets to a vital organ, like the lungs, it can be fatal for your pooch. Thankfully, you can minimize the risk of foxtails by not letting your dog run through areas it may be present. A shorter coat also means less for foxtails to grip onto, so it’s a good idea to keep your dog’s fur on the shorter side during the summer.



  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "foxtail". Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Feb. 2016, Accessed 17 May 2023. 

  2. KC Staff, AKC. “Foxtails & Dogs: Why They’re Dangerous.” American Kennel Club, 24 June 2021, Accessed 17 May 2023. 

  3. Zimmer, Marcello. “Picture of the Week: Foxtails.” Purdue University Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, 21 Feb. 2022,,ditches%2C%20or%20other%20disturbed%20areas. Accessed 17 May 2023.

  4. Anonymous. “Foxtails Pose Serious Health Risks to Animals.” UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 30 Mar. 2018, Accessed 17 May 2023.

  5. Nelson, Jen Barnette. “Protect Your Pet from the Dangers of Foxtails.” SF SPCA, 4 Apr. 2022, Accessed 17 May 2023.

  6. Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine Accessed 17 May 2023.

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Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

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