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
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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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Because our Springer has suffered several foxtail incidents, I purchased – but confess we haven’t used which I’ll explain – a device called OutFox.  It’s a stiff mesh headstall that fits over the dog’s head and attaches to the collar.  The dog can see and breathe but foxtails can’t enter his nose or ears.  The reason we haven’t used it is that when we are at our Redding place, we no longer walk her in the green area where she suffered her last foxtail incident.  We just keep her in the fenced yard.  She had her 16th birthday this week and no longer needs the type of exercise she once did.  Here in Eastern County, her morning and evening walks are in areas that are fairly foxtail free.

  2. Avatar Ann says:

    While walking my dog at the Clover Creek preserve, she sniffed a foxtail into her nose hitch as you described had to be surgically removed.   Thank goodness Dr. Bond could get her in right away and there were three other dogs with foxtails that morning.  We walk the neighborhood now and stay away from the weeds.

  3. Avatar cheyenne says:

    Here in Cheyenne we do not have fleas, I am told because of the altitude.  We do have lots of foxtails and ticks though.   Our veterinarian is on robo dial along with my wives and I’s primary care doctors.  The treatment in the spring seems to take care of the ticks but we have to be very careful about checking for foxtails and burrs as our dog has the run of nine acres, or more, with rabbits to chase every where.  We have to keep her Rabies shots updated as there are skunks, foxes and the occasional badger around.  I haven’t seen any coyotes, I think the foxes keep them under control.  Out here German Shepherds, we have one, are the predominant breed with an occasional Lab or Rottweiler, no yappy dogs though, the hawks or the barn cats would carry them off.

    With summer here so are the transits and they always seem to have dogs with them.  I am sure those dogs don’t see any veterinarians and I worry about their care.

  4. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:

    I  worry too, about how the transients  get dogs, and how well they  take care of them. It sickens me to see those poor animals walking on the hot asphalt or concrete during the hot summer months. Many are underweight and not happy.

  5. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Timely article Carla.  I would be happy to see the same effort to eradicate this invasive plant as been put into getting rid of other invaders in this area.  I now scout areas before taking my dogs for a walk.   Foxtails are ruthless.

  6. Steve Steve says:

    Thank you for the article, Carla.  I’m amazed how many dog owners I talk to that don’t realize the hazard of foxtails.  One couple I spoke with didn’t even know what foxtails were.  This year seems to be worse.

    Bodie misses you and your ranch.  If there’s ever an opening for daycare. please let me know.

    Thanks again for this alert.  I agree when you say it’s WAR!