The Danger of Foxtail Grass | Calgary Dog Health

The Danger Of Foxtail Barley For Dogs

It’s fun to watch your canines romp and play down the sidewalks and trails with you all summer. Good weather is undeniably the best time for you to play and bond with your furball, but summer comes with its own challenges, especially if you notice your pooch limping up to you during a walk.

What gives? Maybe your pooch stubbed its paw, or maybe….. it is foxtails! Ugh. 

What Are Foxtails? 

Foxtail barley is a perennial grass that grows in and around Calgary and all over Alberta. It contains sharply barbed seeds that can easily lodge themselves onto and inside of your dog just from a brief sniff or brush by the plant. When foxtail grass first appears, it may seem harmless because it will be green and grow close to the ground, with no indication of the harmful seeds that will soon sprout and dry out once they mature.

Foxtail grass seed awns are what cause this nasty plant to spread so widely because they transmit the seed to fresh soil by adhering to people and animals as they move through the low-lying brush. Once the seed has reached its new location, it will begin to bury itself in the ground and grow a fresh patch of foxtail grass.

What makes these foxtails problematic is that their seeds are barbed and will not work themselves out. This means that if they get lodged somewhere on your dog, they will keep working their way into the body, held firmly in place by the nasty barbs that won’t let them get pushed out. 🙁

Why You Need To Be Careful Of Foxtails

If these foxtails are barbed enough to lodge in the soil and then continue burrowing, imagine what level of discomfort and pain might your dog experience if they lodge inside their body? Foxtails can easily be lodged in your dog’s fur, coat, ear canal, mouth, armpits, paws, and legs, but the worst is when your dog inhales them. 

These vicious seeds don’t break down or dissolve in the digestive tract of the body and can cause significant complications like infections, abscesses, and if left untreated, even death. 

In addition, an embedded foxtail grass seed can cause an abscess in dogs that creates a pocket of pus somewhere in the body, usually under the skin, near the mouth or hiding deep within their paw pads. This will cause swelling and a different type of discharge. 

In addition, if these nasty barbs are inhaled, they can migrate from your dog’s nasal passages into the brain, or into the lungs, where they can cause perforations. Yikes! 

Foxtail grass barb stuck between dog's toes

How To Check For Foxtail Barbs

Finding every foxtail barb that might have gotten lodged on your dog and trapped in the skin and fur can be challenging. You might spend some time combing through their fur and be sure to thoroughly inspect the bottom half of the legs. The foxtails may have lodged themselves in the delicate skin there, especially if your pooch shows symptoms like excessive licking or if he isn’t too keen on getting up and walking around. 

After you have examined the paw pads on your dog’s feet, the next step is to examine the space between their toes. If your dog has a foxtail embedded in one of his paws, you will notice that he is limping or licking the region where it is located. 

If the discomfort is bad enough, he might even start biting at his toes. Any one of these symptoms should raise red flags, and you need to get him checked out by your veterinarian as soon as you possibly can! Personally, I live by the motto ‘better safe than sorry’ so I head to the vet at the first sign of anything unusual in my animals.

It’s possible that a dog won’t even feel foxtails even if his tail only has a light covering of fur on it. Even though it’s possible that he doesn’t feel it, he may still yelp or chase his tail if you touch it. Keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort or pain, and be careful. All dogs can snap or bite if they are hurt or scared, yes, even your precious pooch! 

If you think your dog has any foxtail barbs you should take him to the vet immediately.

Signs To Watch For

You might not be able to spot an embedded foxtail with your naked eye. However, if you pay attention, you might observe that your dog is continually scratching his ear or preferring one of his legs. You may notice that your dog’s eyes are watery all day or that he’s constantly sneezing. 

All these symptoms point to the possibility that your dog has a foxtail seed stuck inside of its body in some location. Because dogs have a propensity to explore new areas by following their noses and leading with their noses, stray seeds can frequently be found on the face.

A runny nose or a lot of sneezing along with incessant scratching could be a vital sign that your dog has a foxtail somewhere. If you detect licking, swelling, or limping in your dog’s paw, your dog may have a seed lodged in its paw.

In addition, if there is discharge, swelling, or redness in the region where your dog is pawing, you should take him to the veterinarian at once, as this could signal the beginning of an abscess. It is time to consult your veterinarian if your dog is acting strangely, such as whining or pawing at his ear, shaking his head, or standing on one leg; all classic signs of pain or discomfort. 

Prevention Is Better Than Cure 

Instead of trying to manage the damage from foxtails, I’d suggest avoiding walks anywhere you see them. They are actually quite a pretty grass and the heads move in the breeze similar to ocean waves, thankfully they are NOT difficult to spot if you are looking for them. The city is looking into planting micro-clover in some of the areas where foxtail grows to give it competition – this could be a great idea! 

Avoiding them altogether may be easier said than done. I notice them all around Calgary growing beside all the major roads and along the sidewalks in all communities. These pesky plants grow in a wide variety of places including alleyways, yards, sidewalk cracks, and of course, the park and woodsy areas. 

Foxtail Barley Grass growing in Calgary, Alberta

If you’re going to take your dog outside, the best you can do is keep your eyes peeled and shorten the leash enough to avoid your dog putting his body near any patches. To keep your dog foxtail-free, avoid areas with foxtails, but also follow these simple maintenance procedures, especially during foxtail season from May to December. 

Every day, look for anything out of the ordinary in your dog’s toes, legs, and faces. Tiny foxtail seeds have an uncanny capacity to penetrate deep into your dog’s body faster than you can blink.

Be on the lookout for strange behaviours, such as excessive coughing, sneezing, or gagging, which may indicate the presence of a stray foxtail seed. As quickly as a mosquito can jab you in summer, foxtails can disappear inside a dog’s nose, throat, or ear, so if your dog exhibits any signs of discomfort, be sure to call your veterinarian right away.

What To Do If You Find A Foxtail

I’m not a vet so I’m not going to give you Do-It-Yourself advice here. I’m going to suggest that you visit your veterinarian or at least give them a call if you find foxtail seeds on your dog. They can cause so much pain and become deadly if left untreated.

Help spread the word if you live in an area where foxtails can be seen. Post locations and pictures on your FaceBook community groups to warn neighbours and post a link to this blog to help educate other pet owners who don’t yet know of the dangers of Foxtail Barley.

Final Thoughts 

Getting out in the summer isn’t always as easy as grabbing a leash and taking off. There’s the heat waves, possible interactions with wildlife, ticks, and of course the foxtails to be aware of – just to name a few!  If you’re planning a trip to the mountains this summer, going camping or even just walking in your local Calgary community or park – be sure to check your dog thoroughly for ticks, parasites, and foxtail seeds using a brush and your keen eyes.

Update 2023: The City of Calgary has amended a bylaw that will be helpful in mitigating the foxtail problem.

If you are looking for a safe place in Calgary to have professional outdoor dog portraits created for your beloved pooch, connect with me, and we can plan a fun foxtail-free session. 😉

Pawsitive Vibes, 🐾

Heidi Grace Pet Portraiture Signature Logo
Heidi Grace Pet Portraiture Logo

Heidi Grace

Fine Art Pet Photographer

Pet Portraits with Personality

Heidi Grace is a nationally accredited and award-winning professional photographer serving Calgary, Alberta.

She’s dedicated to preserving the bond between pets and their parents with her colourful style of story-telling imagery.

Search Topics Here

Calgary's Dog Photographer

Be sure to join the VIP (very important pet) quarterly newsletter to get first dibs on limited edition sessions and more!

Scroll to Top