Foxtails: Small seeds that can cause some serious problems

Out in the west foxtail type grasses are everywhere. I can even remember stripping the green seeds off the stalks through the long hot summers in Western Colorado. It was quite a few years after those summers before I found out that the individual seeds can pose a danger to dogs and cats.

These weeds grow all over the US, particularly west of the Mississippi. You’ve probably seen them growing next to the roads, in fields and maybe even in your yard. They aren’t dangerous for humans, but for our furry friends, they can cause injury and even kill.

Foxtails (or cheatgrass) are all over the US. They're kind of pretty aren't they? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Foxtails (or cheatgrass) are all over the US. They’re kind of pretty aren’t they? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

You may have thought of foxtails as an irritation, the seeds get stuck in your socks and in your dog’s (or cat’s) fur and can be difficult and time-consuming to remove. It goes far beyond that. As the seeds burrow forward through fur and into skin, they don’t break down inside the body which can lead to serious infections and even death if left untreated.

The symptoms your dog will have will vary depending on where the foxtail is, they can include:

  • Scratching and licking in one spot.
  • Shaking and tilting their head a lot (ears)
  • Limping
  • Excessive sneezing
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Swelling


You’ll need to be extra vigilant during foxtail season, which is generally May through September, especially when the seeds dry out. The best prevention is to keep your dog away from overgrown grassy areas. I’ve been lucky, we didn’t take our dogs out into foxtail/cheatgrass prone areas but I’ve known many dogs who have had a foxtail related vet visit. It’s easy to miss.

One of the many species of foxtails/cheatgrass. Photo courtesy of Curtis Clark via Wikimedia Commons

The likelihood of your pet experiencing a foxtail medical emergency depends on where you take them on walks or hikes. We feel that all knowledge is worth having and it’s best to be prepared. The more you know.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or veterinarian.