Did you know that foxtail plants can be very dangerous for your dog? Dr. Christina Fernandez explains why foxtails are dangerous and how to find them on dogs. Giant foxtail management in soybeans xxxxxxxx
Foxtail Plants: How to Find Them on Dogs and Why They’re So Dangerous
Foxtail plants are a weed-type grass that can cause serious problems for dogs.
Flourishing in the summer months, the seeds from these annoying weeds are designed to burrow into the ground. If they attach to your pet’s coat and burrow into the skin, this can lead to pain, infection, and sometimes more serious issues. Foxtails can also be inhaled, lodged in the ears, swallowed, and embedded in the paws.
Luckily, there are things you can do to try to keep your dog safe from the dangers of foxtails. Here’s a breakdown of what the foxtail plant is and why it’s dangerous for your dog.
What Is a Foxtail? What Do Foxtails Look Like?
Foxtails—also called grass seed awns, mean seeds, timothy, cheatgrass, June grass, Downy Brome, or other local names—are an annual summer grass. They start growing in spring and are in full bloom by summer. They will then die during the winter.
Shaped like the tail of a fox, the tip has seeds arranged in spikey clusters with backward-facing barbs. 1 The spikes and barbs allow for one-way burrowing, which is great news for the foxtail but bad news for dogs.
Here are some pictures of a foxtail plant:
Here are pictures of the dangerous foxtail awns:
Shown: Common wheat grass awns / Image credit: Smith Veterinary Hospital
Shown: Brittle grass awn breaking into smaller pieces / Image credit: FloridaGrasses.org
Where Are Foxtails Found?
Foxtails can be found anywhere in the United States but are most common in the West. They are most often found in these places:
Open grassy fields
While they are less common in urban areas, they can still be found in areas where grass is allowed to grow uncontrolled.
When the weather is warm, the foxtail dries out and hitches a ride on anything passing by, including dogs. This hitchhiking behavior is important for foxtail seed dispersal. 1
Why Are Foxtails Dangerous for Dogs?
Foxtails can attach to any part of your dog’s body and start the burrowing process. This commonly includes: 2
Spaces between the toes (in the paw pads)
In some cases, foxtails can burrow through the skin, finding their way into the spine or chest and belly cavities. Once inside, the foxtail continues to burrow, bringing bacteria and dirt along with it.
This can lead to much more serious conditions because internal organs may be affected. The foxtail will continue to cause problems until it is removed.
In some cases, advanced diagnostic tests and procedures may be required to identify and remove the foxtail.
What Are the Signs That a Dog Has Foxtails on Them?
If you live in an area where foxtails are abundant, here are some signs you can look for:
Pawing at the face
Excessive licking of an area on the body
Other signs can show up one to several days later. These may include:
Areas of redness or tenderness
In the worst case scenarios, an embedded foxtail can make it to vital organs, including the lungs, spinal cord or brain, heart, and abdominal organs, causing symptoms specific to that organ. In very bad cases, surgery may be required to remove foxtails or treat infection resulting from embedded foxtails.
How to Remove Foxtails From a Dog
Early removal of the foxtail is important. If you live in a foxtail-prone area, ALWAYS check your dog after being outside.
If you see a foxtail on your dog’s fur or skin, you can attempt to remove it with tweezers.
If you are seeing any of the signs listed above or signs that a foxtail has penetrated the skin or entered an opening on your dog’s body, bring your dog to the vet. This includes the ears, nose, or mouth.
Trying to remove the foxtail yourself from a body cavity may result in an incomplete removal, with pieces of the foxtail still embedded in your dog’s skin and ready to burrow deeper. Foxtails can travel a great distance through body cavities, so it’s important that the full foxtail is removed.
How to Prevent Foxtails From Injuring Your Dog
There are a few ways you can avoid foxtails and keep your dog safe.
Dogs with long coats are more likely to pick up these annoying hitchhikers. Consider a trim for the summer to reduce the likelihood of attachment.
Working dogs, or dogs that spend a lot of time in tall grass, may be outfitted with a commercially available vest that covers and protects the chest and abdomen.
Avoid foxtail-prone areas to prevent injury to your dog.
Use a short leash when walking your dog.
If foxtails grow in your yard, make plans to remove them or call a landscaper for assistance.
Check for foxtails frequently and after periods of outdoor play, especially if you hike or spend time in foxtail-prone areas.
Foxtail (diaspore). (2019, June 2). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxtail_(diaspore)
Brennan KE, Ihrke PJ. Grass awn migration in dogs and cats: A retrospective study of 182 cases. Am Vet Med Assoc. 1983.182(11):1201-1204
– Giant foxtail is a summer annual weed that is problematic throughout most parts of the U.S., especially in the northern and eastern corn belt. It has a round stem, hairy ligule and a very distinctive seedhead.
– Germination occurs in spring. The emergence period for giant foxtail is lengthy, and seeds can emerge from soil depths of less than one inch. Seeds set in late summer or early fall, and then the plant dies.
– Giant foxtail grows best in compacted soils with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus but is adaptable to many soils and can tolerate drought.
– Giant foxtail seed production varies from 500 to 2,500 seeds per plant, averaging about 900 seeds per plant. The seed longevity for giant foxtail is very short. Many seeds germinate within the first year without being dormant. However, seed can lay dormant in the soil for a couple of years before germinating.
Herbicide Resistance in Giant Foxtail
- Giant foxtail has developed resistance to three herbicide sites of action: Group 1 (ACCase Inhibitors), Group 2 (ALS Inhibitors) and Group 5 (Photosystem II Inhibitors).
- Resistance to Group 1 herbicides (ACCase Inhibitors) was identified in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois as early as 1991.
- Resistance to Group 2 herbicides (ALS Inhibitors) has been identified in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.
- Resistance to Group 5 herbicides (Photosystem II Inhibitors) was identified in Maryland and Iowa.
Management of Giant Foxtail in Soybeans
Follow the steps below to manage herbicide-resistant and susceptible giant foxtail populations in soybeans. Using cultural practices along with chemical control diversifies control and reduces the risk of developing herbicide resistance if resistance is not already present.
1. Start Clean! Control existing vegetation with tillage or burndown herbicides. Use the proper residual chloroacetamide or dinitroaniline herbicide (group 15 or group 3) to provide residual control and prevent giant foxtail from emerging. Ensure there is no emergence of giant foxtail before planting.
2. Apply Postemergence Herbicides Early. Applications should be timed to target plants when they are young (4 inches or less in height) to prevent the weed from becoming a bigger problem later in the season. If you have populations that are resistant to ACCase (group 1) or ALS (group 2) herbicides, your postemergence herbicide program will be reliant on glyphosate (group 9) or glufosinate (group 10). Add a group 15 herbicide with your postemergence herbicide to provide additional residual control during the growing season. Spray glufosinate on small weeds on a hot sunny day for best results.
3. Use Multiple Herbicide Sites of Action. Both pre-emergence and post-emergence herbicide applications should contain multiple sites of action to diversify control and manage resistance development.
4. Scout 14 Days After Application. Scouting two weeks after applying herbicide helps identify any additional weeds that may have emerged and allows time for follow-up applications to control late-season escapes that could contribute to the weed seed bank.
5. Eliminate Plants That Will Produce Seed. To reduce giant foxtail problems in the future years, do not let escaped plants go to seed. Hand weed or treat with herbicides to reduce or eliminate seed production.
6. Pay Attention to Patches of Giant Foxtail That Appear More Difficult To Control. You might have a resistance problem developing in your field. Look for mixtures of live and dead plants to provide early indications of resistance to herbicides developing in your field. Implement alternative strategies in these fields to deal with resistant populations before the infestation is allowed to spread.
Weed Seed: Setaria faberi (Giant foxtail)
Primary Noxious, Class 2 in the Canadian Weed Seeds Order, 2016 under the Seeds Act.
Worldwide: Native to temperate eastern Asia and introduced in North America, central Europe, Russia and the Middle East (Nurse et al. 2009 Footnote 2 , USDA -ARS 2016 Footnote 3 ). In the United States, it occurs mostly in the east and is expanding westward (Nurse et al. 2009 Footnote 2 ).
Duration of life cycle
Seed or fruit type
- Spikelet length: 2.5 – 3.5mm
- Spikelet width: 1.5 – 2.0 mm
- Spikelet ovate with a pointed tip; one side is flat (plano-convex)
- Lemma surface is transversely ridged, smooth at the tip
- Palea is grid-patterned with 2 shiny crescents along the outer edges
- Spikelet straw yellow to medium brown
- The papery second glume extends up to 3/4 of the length of the lemma
Habitat and Crop Association
Cultivated fields, old fields, gardens, roadsides, railway lines and disturbed areas (Darbyshire 2003 Footnote 4 ). A weed of a variety of crops, but causes the greatest losses in corn and soybeans (Nurse et al. 2009 Footnote 2 , CABI 2016 Footnote 5 ).
Giant foxtail may have been introduced into North America as a contaminant of imported millet. It may also contaminate bird seed and flower seed mixtures as well as other crop seeds. In Canada, the occurrence of giant foxtail coincided with the cultivation of field corn beginning in the 1960s (Nurse 2009 Footnote 2 ).
Yellow foxtail (Setaria pumila subsp. pumila)
- Yellow foxtail is similar in size, yellow colour, lemma wrinkling and ovate shape as giant foxtail spikelets. The lemma ridges of yellow foxtail remain strong to the tip, the palea lacks the shiny outer edges of giant foxtail, and the second glume reaches halfway up the lemma.
Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) spikelet and florets Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) spikelet Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) floret, lemma view Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) floret, side view Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) floret, palea view Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) spikelets
Brouillet, L., Coursol, F., Favreau, M. and Anions, M. 2016. VASCAN, the database vascular plants of Canada, http://data.canadensys.net/vascan/ [2016, May 30].
Nurse, R. E., Darbyshire, S. J., Bertin, C. and DiTommaso, A. 2009. The Biology of Canadian Weeds. 141. Setaria faberi Herrm. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 89: 379-404.
Darbyshire, S. J. 2003. Inventory of Canadian Agricultural Weeds. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Branch. Ottawa, ON.