Torpedoes of Death Masquerade as Innocent Grass to Torture Dogs


I see foxtails. Everywhere.

Hordeum murinum or “Hare Barley,” a non-native invader from Spain, grows in healthy, thick patches along the trails and in open spaces where people walk their dogs. What appears to be innocent, lush grass in early spring quickly develops into pesky, sometimes-lethal spiny seed-heads; little torpedoes ready to burrow into anything and everything.

Some common scenarios: dog sniffs the ground near a dry foxtail and up the nose it goes, dog walks through the weeds, hits a foxtail that bursts and sends a tiny arrow into the dog’s ear or attaches to the fur and begins its trek through the hair to pierce the skin.

The foxtail, equipped with microscopic barbs and designed for forward motion, propels itself determinedly along its path. It can travel several inches a day through soft tissue. While ears-nose-and-between-the-toes cases are most prevalent, no body part is immune. Foxtails have been found in the urethra, vulva, and anal glands. If left untreated, foxtails that reach internal organs can be deadly – a local dog had to have a lung lobe removed due to a foxtail. Another had a foxtail lodged in his spine.

The faster you can seek veterinary help the better and vets keep busy May through September surgically removing the sinister spears. The simplest foxtail office call (removal from the ear, no infection) runs about $60. If the evil weed has penetrated the eardrum, expect to pay $150 – $200. Extracting foxtails from noses is more expensive ($300 – $400) because anesthesia is always required.


Tell-tale symptoms of foxtail trouble: Excessive, violent, sneezing (one vet calls it a “head-banging sneeze”) is a sure sign a foxtail has gone up your dog’s nose. Also watch for repetitive licking of paws, rear-end and legs; cyst-like lumps or abscesses; frantic head-shaking and/or scratching at ears, and puffy/goopy eyes.

Foxtail weeds are prolific in these parts and thrive in almost any soil. On a recent walk, I saw that someone had sprayed herbicide along the edges of the Sacramento River Trail after the foxtail grass was a foot tall and the seed heads had developed. They are now dry dry dry and busily morphing into a thousand potential landmines. All it takes is a moderate wind or being brushed by passersby to cause them to burst. If they don’t attach to something right away, they will lay patiently in wait for something to come along.


Keeping your pet on the pavement and away from the edge of the trail is certainly advisable but may not be enough. As seen here, the seeds have fallen onto the paved part of the trail. I didn’t even venture off the pavement and found several stuck in my shoelaces after they’d brushed the ground.

Beware! If you have foxtail weeds on your property, eradicate them BEFORE they dry and start doing their deadly damage. Even if they don’t attach to your pet, they will at the very least, reseed themselves and come back even stronger next year.

It’s possible to make it through summer and fall without an expensive foxtail incident, but it requires diligence on the part of pet owners.

When it comes to fighting Hordeum murinum, it’s not a battle – it’s war!

  • Own a long-haired dog? Consider having him/her shaved during foxtail season
  • Inspect pets carefully each day, especially after outings near dry weeds. Brush thoroughly, check ears, in between toes.
  • Eradicate foxtail weeds from your yard. Pull them out by the roots. If you use an herbicide, spray in early spring before they develop.
  • If you mow foxtails, bag and THROW THE CLIPPINGS AWAY!

This “Best Of” article originally appeared July 8, 2009.

Carla Jackson is a certified pet dog trainer who owns and operates Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free dog boarding and training facility. Carla is a past instructor at Haven Humane Society and specializes in private training/behavior consultations for the family dog.

For a complete introduction to dog training, check out Cari Bowe’s and Carla’s DVD, “Your Family Dog, Leadership and Training,” an interactive DVD featuring over 60 locally owned dogs learning new behaviors in beautiful Shasta County locations. The DVD provides valuable tips for daily living, guidelines for solving common behavior problems, and the essential skills needed to teach your dog basic commands. The DVD is now available at many local veterinarian offices, Haven Humane Society, and through or

Carla Jackson
Carla Jackson is a professional pet dog trainer and owner of Jackson Ranch for Dogs, a kennel-free boarding and training facility. She specializes in private training, behavior consultations, puppy socialization and day training. You can find Jackson Ranch on Facebook, visit the Jackson Ranch website, or call (530)365-3800.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    A couple weeks ago my dog (JRT) went out before bed and came in a few minutes later hacking and coughing and it continued all night long. $165 later a foxtail was removed from her tonsil!! Darn those foxtails.

  2. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    Well, there's a headline to grab your attention. I don't have a pet, but stuff is good to know anyway.

  3. Avatar Charlie says:

    Where can I get these torpedos? How much are they? Do I have to have a carry permit?

    • Avatar Carla Jackson says:

      To apply for a foxtail-torpedo carry permit, you must first prove you have an awesome head-banging sneeze AND a giant veterinary medical savings account. Warning: permits are renewed every two days, May through September with mandatory cavity searches and subcutaneous probes.

  4. Avatar Karen C says:

    Thanks for the great article, very important info for us who own pets.

  5. Avatar Joanne Snyder says:

    Carla, thank you for the great article. Foxtails are truly horrific. I hate foxtails because they are not sentient, but they are so “single-minded” in that they just keep moving forward through an animal. I won’t let my dogs near them and we have cleared them from our property. A hike with my husband was cut short when we saw a foxtail fly up into my dog’s ear. Could be get it out? No. Would it just sit in the ear until the dog could shake it out? No. Would it turn around and exit the ear. No. But the time we got to the vet it had already started its journey into my dogs head.

  6. Avatar EasternShastaCounty says:

    It's not only ears and noses that are affected. Although we don't know its origin, our dog ended up with a huge lump on her neck under her chin . The lump was the size of a half grapefruit. She has numerous lypomas; so we thought that's what it was. However, she was feeling very poorly so we took her to the vet only to find that a foxtail had penetrated the area – probably through her mouth. The vet said that in another day, the lump would have burst. She had to have three different surgeries to get rid of it because it kept migrating. We put cottonballs in her ears during walks, but that precaution was useless for this episode.

    • Avatar Carla Jackson says:

      Yes, as stated in the article, NO body part is immune to the evil weed. Once attached to the fur, it doesn't take long for a foxtail to reach and penetrate the skin. I'm so sorry your dog had to go through surgery 🙁

  7. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Evidently this does not bother cats? I notice our cat had some in his tail and sides. You know cats, they persist in being nosy, and the yard to the back of us is has very high weeds, full of those pesky foxtails, besides being a fire hazard.