Lurking Summertime Danger for Dogs and Cats



What are foxtails?Our pets love romping in the brush in these warm summer months, but there are these little things call grass awns otherwise known as foxtails that can wreak havoc (and be life threatening) for our dogs and cats. In my 10 years in practice, I have surgically removed these little buggers from a cat’s lungs, a dog’s abdomen and from many, many, many paws, ears, noses and eyes. Unfortunately some pets don’t show any signs of illness until the foxtail has migrated far into the body where it causes severe damage to internal organs. This is why it is so important to your pet over on a regular basis. Here is a picture of what foxtails look like.


Here’s what foxtails do. They are arrow shaped, so they get stuck in the fur, then start to burrow into the skin. Since they are barbed, they can only move one direction: farther in. They can migrate all the way from the paw, up the leg to the internal organs. They can also be inhaled though the nose, stuck under eyelids, in the mouth or ears. Once they embed into the skin or get stuck in the ear, mouth or elsewhere, you can’t see them. Signs of a possible foxtail problem include head shaking, pawing at the ear or mouth, sudden onset of continuous sneezing, bloody nasal discharge, licking at one spot on the body excessively.


So, how can you protect your pet from foxtails? If you take your dog to the park or out on a hike, give them a thorough going-over when you get home. Look and feel between each toe and under the fur all over their body. If you do this right away, you will likely be able to find any foxtails before they get completely embedded in the skin. If you notice that your dog or cat is persistently licking a specific area, it could indicate that there is a foxtail under the skin. If you see a raised, red area as in the picture above, or notice any of the signs previously mentioned, your pet needs to see the vet.


What happens when a foxtail becomes embedded? Your pet will need to see a veterinarian. For foxtails in the skin, the raised area is numbed and probed with an instrument used to grab the foxtail and remove it. This can be a challenging task and may take several different attempts and your pet may need to be sedated. A scope is used to examine ear and nasal canals if a foxtail is suspected there. Once the foxtail(s) is removed, your pet should have a full recovery.

Foxtails are not to be taken lightly. Since they can cause significant and life-threatening health issues, it is important to check dogs and cats regularly and have them seen if you notice any suspicious wounds, swellings, excessive licking, sneezing or unusual behavior.

Whole Pet Wellness Veterinary Services provides stress-free, in-home veterinary care and consultations for dogs and cats in the Denver Metro area. If you would like to make an appointment for your pet please contact us at (720)583-4442 or


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