A few years ago when I first shared my infographic about Foxtail Grass on my Red and Howling Facebook page, I was surprised at how many people were unaware of the dangers of these innocent looking grasses, at the same time many shared personal horror stories with foxtails and their fur kids. Most required immediate intervention and surgery and tragically some lost pets to these lethal grasses.
“I lost my girl to a foxtail. They are deadly. She inhaled it and it went into her heart after the vets couldn’t find it.”—Lisa R
“My springer would get them between her toes where they would work in and become abscessed.”—Laura R.
“I had a Pomeranian snack on one at a rest stop, we ended up quickly in a vets office 600 miles from home. The barbs were in his throat and he was suffocating.“—Denny T.
I created several Foxtail posters to help raise awareness (another at end of article). PLEASE print, share, email it. Ask your vet to put one up in the office and pin it up at your local dog park. (Read on for more Foxtail Grass information).
First, what is Foxtail Grass?
When grass goes to seed the pretty fuzzy tip is referred to as a “Foxtail”. These can pose a problem to our fur kids, but nothing like Hordeum leporinum which is what this article is focused on. Hordeum leporinum has lethal barbed, razor-sharp needles that are extremely dangerous to people and pets. Nature designed them to move in one direction, so its seeds could be dispersed far & wide—burrowing relentlessly forward. It goes by many names across the globe from Mouse barley, Wild barley, Farmer’s Foxtail, Wall barley, to Fora Sacchi in Italy to Mäusegerste in Germany. Foxtail Grass is widespread across the globe.
Why are foxtails dangerous?
Nature designed Foxtails to move in one direction only, so when they attach themselves they penetrate and burrow quickly—digging deeper and deeper inside with each movement. Foxtails love paws and can easily become embedded (and hidden) between toes. They can work their way into ANY part of the body, from the nose to the ears, eyes, and mouth.
Foxtails that go up the nose can migrate to the brain. Inhaled foxtails can puncture a lung. Foxtails that go unnoticed can require surgery to be removed. Embedded foxtails can cause discharge, abscesses, swelling, pain, and death.
Stay away from areas with Foxtails and make sure you remove them from your yard (mow them with a bag attached or you’ll just disperse them more). If your pet has mingled with foxtails, make sure to do a thorough inspection afterward: Brush coat, feel every part of the body with your hands, and look closely at ears, nose, eyes, underbelly, between toe pads, underneath collars and don’t forget those private areas! Also check inside mouth and around lips.
Anyone, from kids to horses, can get assaulted by foxtails, but animals with long fur, long ears, and curly fur can be especially prone to foxtail problems.
Be aware of foxtail symptoms:
Continuous sneezing, pawing at and licking an infected area, violent shaking of head, frequently tilting head to the side, scratching at an ear incessantly, sores or abscesses, swelling, discharge, coughing, and limping.
Foxtail facts you should know:
Foxtails tends to grow in grassland areas, prairies, meadows, and are common along roadsides and trails (I had them right next to my sidewalk in West Hollywood!)
As foxtails dry they become brittle and even more dangerous, breaking off more easily into tiny segments. Each segment is loaded with infinite tiny barbs that dig into hair and skin and float their way into openings, like the mouth and ears.
Once attached to your pet foxtails can disappear into the body QUICKLY, so checking them over immediately is critical.
“If foxtails get deep into the nasal passages, they can continue to travel into the brain and cause seizures or death”Randy Acker, DVM, author of Field Guide to Dog First Aid: Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog
Once a foxtails is inside your pet, they continue to burrow inward. If not found and removed quickly, they can literally disappear, because they won’t show up on an x-ray.
“Foxtails cannot be absorbed by the body, nor can they be broken down or digested”Catherine Dyer, DVM
If you’re looking for the previous version of my Foxtail dog safety illustration & poster, you can see it here and also download this poster, too! (I’m grateful that this mini poster is at the top of Google Image Search for “Foxtails” which shows me that people are learning about this dangerous grass):
Available as a free download on my Red & Howling shop, or you can download directly below. Help spread the word.
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to share their experiences and knowledge. It is very powerful for us to connect across the globe with the common goal of helping to keep our fur kids safe.
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