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How to Remove Foxtail from a Dog’s Paw: 5 Simple Steps

Written by: Matt Jackson

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Dogster Team

paw standing on dry straws and foxtails

How to Remove Foxtail from a Dog’s Paw: 5 Simple Steps

The foxtail is a grass-like weed with large seed heads at the top of the grass. The heads themselves look pretty, but they shed thousands of seeds onto the ground every year. These seeds dry out on the ground and the barbed ends easily get stuck in dogs’ paws, potentially causing a lot of pain.

Because they don’t break down once they become lodged in your dog’s body, they can also cause an infection that leads to discharge, abscesses, and potentially even more serious consequences. The seeds are especially dangerous if inhaled or if they get in your dog’s eyes, but they are most likely to end up in your dog’s paws as your pup adventures around areas where these plants grow.

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Signs Your Dog Has Foxtails in Its Paw

Generally, you will know if you’ve walked near foxtails because the seed head is easily recognizable. And, if you see whole foxtail heads in your dog’s fur, you may be able to simply pull them out.

If the seeds have lodged in the paw, you will notice your dog scratching and even chewing at the area to try and remove them. You may notice some swelling and reddening of the area, too. But the seeds can be small, and once lodged in the paw, they can be difficult to spot yourself.

dry foxtail on dog's paw
Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

The 5 Steps to Remove Foxtails from a Dog’s Paw

If you do believe your dog has foxtails in its paw, there are some steps you can take to remove the seeds yourself.

1. Try Tweezers

If the foxtail is loosely attached to the fur and has not yet dug into or penetrated the skin, you may be able to safely remove it using tweezers. However, you shouldn’t use tweezers if the foxtail has penetrated the skin. You may not remove the whole thing and could leave some of the seed behind.

It will be a lot harder to detect and more difficult to remove, so using tweezers could make the situation worse.


2. Soak the Paw in Salted Water

If the seed is embedded in the paw, you need to soak the area, but warm water alone won’t draw the foxtail out. Create an Epsom salt wash by combining Epsom salts with warm water. Soak the foot in the salty solution for approximately 5 minutes.

person soaking dog's paw in a bowl of salted water
Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

3. Repeat

You should soak the foot two or three times a day for 5 to 7 days. This will help soften the foxtail and it will loosen the area where it has become embedded so that the foxtail will hopefully fall out of its own accord.


4. Prevent Licking

Your dog’s natural instinct will be to lick its soaking paw. If the foxtail dislodges and your dog gets it in its mouth, this can lead to even more serious problems, so you need to prevent licking. Use an E-cone and keep it on until you’re sure the foxtail has come out and you’ve been able to safely retrieve it.


5. Consult a Vet

If, after 5–7 days, the foxtail has not come out, or if the paw’s condition gets worse during this time, you should take your dog to the vet. They will be able to investigate and have better tools and equipment to remove the offending seed.

They will also be able to check for signs of infection as well as signs of foxtails in other areas of the body.

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Signs of Infection

Before infection has the chance to set in, you may notice some signs that your dog foxtails. If the foxtail is in the paw, this will include limping and your dog favoring its other paws. You may notice that your dog is scratching or, more likely, licking its paw. And, once the foxtail embeds in the paw, you will likely notice swelling and a reddening of the area.

One of the big concerns with foxtails is that they can cause infection. Signs of infection include:

If you do see these signs, you should take your dog to a vet immediately.

owner checking dog's paw
Image Credit: JNix, Shutterstock

How to Prevent Foxtail Problems

Removing foxtails can be difficult, so it is best to avoid the problem in the first place, where possible.

  • Avoid areas where foxtails are present. They can be found around trails and are especially found in long grasses. They can also be difficult to spot when they grow in long grass.
  • If foxtails are present in your garden or yard, remove them so your dog isn’t at risk when running around at home.
  • Don’t let your dog run free when you’re out walking. You won’t be able to see all the foxtail weeds if your dog is not by your side.
  • If you see foxtails while you’re out, get the brush out and give your dog’s coat a good brushing to remove any foxtails and seeds before they can transfer to other areas of the body.

What Happens If You Leave a Foxtail?

A whole foxtail may fall out of its own accord but if left on your dog, the main body of the foxtail may break away from the barbed tip. Over time, the bard will dry up and harden. At this point, it will be very sharp and may pierce your dog’s skin before lodging in the paw or other area.

If you don’t notice the signs or leave it in the hope it will get better, the area is likely to become infected. This is because the foxtail doesn’t break down and remains in place, in one piece.

hand removing foxtail on dog's paw
Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

Is a Foxtail an Emergency?

Foxtails are considered somewhat of an emergency because they can cause infection and because they can be dangerous if they are inhaled or if they get in your dog’s eyes. As such, if you are unable to remove them yourself, or if you notice that the foxtail has penetrated the paw, you should consult a vet as soon as possible.

They will be able to advise you on the next steps to help ensure your pup recovers.

How Do Vets Remove Foxtails?

The vet may have to administer an anesthetic and perform a surgical procedure to ensure that the seeds are fully and thoroughly removed. They may also have to drain any abscesses and you will likely be given a course of antibiotics to give your dog. The antibiotics will help combat any infection that has taken root.

In most instances, once the seed has been removed, the dog will recover quickly. The paw should start to feel better within a couple of days and your dog will be back to walking and running around within a week.

dogster paw divider

Conclusion

Foxtails are prevalent in a lot of grassy areas, and while they look fairly harmless, they can be a real problem for dogs. As well as getting into the eyes and mouth, they commonly end up in dogs’ paws. The foxtail seeds harden as they dry, and they may penetrate the skin of the paw.

Left untreated and unchecked the seed can cause infection because it fails to break down, and infections can be serious, so the seeds must be removed. Use tweezers if the seed has not penetrated the skin, try soaking the paw in an Epsom salt wash if you can see the seed has penetrated the skin, and consult a vet if things don’t improve or if you notice signs of infection.


Featured Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

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