Removing Foxtails in Dogs' Paws

Foxtails are grassy plants that usually grow only in states west of the Mississippi River. These plants are common weeds that have spiky barbs which can cause significant damage to a dog's body. Not only can the sharp barb cause pain as it enters a paw, an ear or a nose, but this weed is particularly hard to remove due to barbs that resemble that of a fish hook. If the barb gets stuck in the skin, it can lead to infection and abscess, which can potentially be fatal.

Identifying Foxtails

Foxtails are appropriately named since the plant resembles the tail of a fox. A seed may be spiny with barbs and can easily embed itself into a dog's paw. If your dog has been outside, carefully inspect the skin and especially the paws between the pads, for evidence of foxtails.

If you see a foxtail seed or spur, carefully pull it straight out making sure not to break off any portion. If a foxtail has become embedded in the paw, the dog may walk with a limp, cry, wince or whine from pain, or begin to show signs of an infected lump in the area. Dogs that appear to have entered a patch of foxtails may benefit from shaving of the hair. It's important to remove all of the barbs, even those that are especially tiny.

Complications from Foxtails in Dog Paws

Foxtails can cause serious infection if they aren't removed or if they are left untreated. The best way to prevent problems is to keep dogs carefully groomed and possibly keep long-haired dogs trimmed in the summer. When hiking or walking, keep your dog away from weeded or wooded areas, and always carefully inspect the dog when it comes in from any outside exercise.

In most cases, a foxtail will push inward through the paw or other areas and create a localized abscess that may become infected. Untreated infections can spread throughout the body and cause significant problems with internal organ functioning and may cause death. In more severe cases, a foxtail spur may continue to travel through the body, as the dog maneuvers, and can tear tissue as it goes. It may move in such a way as to puncture organs, cause internal bleeding or even enter the brain.

Removal of Embedded Foxtails

Once foxtails have embedded themselves between the toes of a paw, in the eye, ear, nose or anywhere beneath the skin, it's not recommended to attempt removal at home, especially if infection has set in. You may be able to purchase over-the-counter antibiotics, or use homeopathic or natural remedies to ease the pain and cut down on spread of infection, but you must have a professional attempt to remove the foxtail from beneath the skin.

Attempting to remove it on your own may cause even further damage and pain for the dog. A veterinarian may need to perform minor surgery or can take advantage of special tools for removal of foxtails.