Thursday, April 13, 2017

How to Protect Your Dog From Foxtails

Foxtails are a particularly nasty sort of grass awn that can injure or even kill your dog. Common on the west coast of North America, these barbed seeds get stuck in fur and then migrate. They're known for burrowing through the body and causing all sorts of infections and complications. Foxtails most commonly get stuck in paws and armpits, but they're more dangerous when they end up in your dog's nose, eye, or ear.

Several of the most easy to find resources on foxtail safety recommend keeping your dog away from all foxtails all the time. However, that's not practical for everyone. I know my dogs aren't the only ones that have to run through vast fields of foxtails to do their jobs. Grass awns are a big risk, but are they dangerous enough to be worth giving up hiking or hunting for months out of the year? Are there ways to help reduce the risk without just staying indoors?


Protective hunting vest
Photo by Erin Koski
Regularly inspecting your dog is the best way to prevent foxtail injuries, as you can remove the grass awns before they have the chance to work their way into the skin. I always check Godzilla and Zip's feet, armpits, and bellies after they run through the field. Good grooming can also help prevent embedded foxtails, as the grass is less likely to stick for long in a clean and combed coat. Matted fur is a magnet for them though, and unshed undercoat traps them quite easily.


A spray-on conditioner like ShowSheen can help prevent grass awns from sticking in your dog's coat, even if she isn't all clean and brushed all the time. Used as a hair polish for show horses, ShowSheen coats the fur and makes it nice and slippery. Foxtails don't tend to stick in either of the girls' coats, but ShowSheen helps make sure even the tenacious ones fall out.

Body Armor

There are a variety of different types of body protection designed to prevent various things from poking or scratching your dog. These are usually made from thick nylon or other tough fabric. Brush guards cover your dog's chest, while vests offer protection up the sides and in the armpits as well.

There are even entire suits designed to cover your dog, though they can be uncomfortable in hot weather. (I'm in southern California so it's hot at least nine months out of the year.)

Head Protection

The OutFox is so far the only product that I feel really offers adequate head protection from grass awns. There are other products that just cover the ears, but I'm far more worried about my dogs getting a foxtail up the nose or even in their lungs. I love this thing so much that the girls each wear one every time we go out into the field. They do seem to run a little hotter in it, and one of our coworker dogs has some visibility issues in it, but so far it's well worth the extra effort to keep them cool.

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