Be Careful Of This Type Of Grass If You Own Pets

Foxtail grass seeds aren't just a nuisance you need to diligently pick off your socks after a summer hike. The awns — the bristles or hairs on the seed heads — are a serious health risk for outdoor pets. Foxtail seeds are spread by dispersal, and the awns help the seeds securely attach to your dog's or, in some cases, cat's fur. From there, backward-facing barbs work the awn through your pet's skin, resulting in pain and infection. In severe cases, the awns end up in your pet's throat, nasal passage, lungs, or spine, with removal requiring costly surgery.

Foxtail grass, also called foxtail barley or foxtail barley grass, is native to Eurasia; once introduced to the USA, it spread rapidly and can now be found almost everywhere in the country. It's considered an invasive weed in most states. There are a few varieties of foxtail grass, but pet owners only really need to worry about green and yellow foxtail. These plants pose the biggest threat in late spring and summer (particularly July to September) when the seed heads — the fox-tail-looking tufts floating above the plant's crown — begin to dry. Dry awns become hard and spiky and can pierce your pet's skin.

What to do if you find a foxtail on your pet

Knowing how to properly clean your dog or cat is essential. When you return from a walk with your dog or your outdoor cat saunters in after a backyard jaunt, carefully check their bodies thoroughly for seeds — especially in the summer. Use a fine-toothed comb to brush through your pet's fur and catch stray awns. Peruse your pet's paws; awns can lodge themselves between the toes. Other places to hunt for foxtail bristles include inside the ears, nose, and mouth. Very furry pets are most at risk since their long hairs are more likely to brush up against the seed heads, dislodging the awns. It's also harder to spot the spindly awns in thick fur.

If you find a foxtail awn embedded in any part of your dog or cat, remove it with tweezers. Carefully check that no part of the bristle remains within your pet's skin and monitor the site for signs of infections for a few days. This includes swelling, redness, or discharge. If you see this, or your pet repeatedly shakes their head or scratches or gnaws at a part of their body, take them to the vet for a check-up. The sooner you catch a burrowing awn, the better (and cheaper) the outcome for you and your furry family member.

How to get rid of or avoid foxtail grass

If you've spotted foxtail grass in your yard, fear not! This weed can be stubborn, but it has a few weaknesses you can exploit. An environmentally friendly strategy is to clip off the seed heads as they develop, limiting future generations. Then, dig out the remaining plants and destroy them. While foxtail has developed resistance to some herbicides, chemical control is still effective in most cases. Types of weed killer to consider before spraying in your yard include proven herbicides like Bayer's Acclaim Extra at $118.95 for 1 pint, or half-a-gallon of Drive XLR8 Herbicide Crabgrass Killer for $84.95, both available at Walmart.

If you don't have foxtail grass in your yard, avoiding it is a far easier proposition. Don't walk your dog in parks or hiking areas with tall grass, especially when you can see dry seed heads. Keep your pet's fur short in the summer months to reduce the chance of awns attaching to the long hairs. Consider getting a protective vest for working dogs that must traipse through long grass. Keep cats, especially long-haired felines that wander far from home, inside during the summer months, or supervise their outside time.