Foxtails are grass-like weeds, which resemble the tails of foxes (hence the name, "foxtail"). These annual grasses are often found in weedy areas along paths and roads. From January until about March or early April, they are soft and green. In late spring however, the seed heads begin to dry and yellow, which is when the hazards begin - lasting throughout the summer until fall rains.
A foxtail seed can cause an inflamed, painful, infected lump anywhere on an animal's body. A dog with a foxtail seed in its ear might rub its head on the ground or shake its head violently from side to side. If a dog gets a foxtail seed in its eye, it might squint. The eye will water and the dog will paw at it. Even if you can clearly see the seed beneath the eyelid, do not attempt to remove it.
Depending on the location of the seed or seeds, other symptoms can include compulsive licking and biting at a paw or around the groin or rectal area, or whining and crying with no obvious or acute injury.
In addition to causing pain and localized infections, foxtail seeds can migrate and lodge in the spine, in the lungs and in other internal organs. They enter through the nose, ears, paws, eyes, urethra or just through the skin and travel through the body The seeds are very small, making locating them a painful, difficult and expensive procedure. Depending on where a foxtail seed has traveled to inside a dog, it can even be life threatening and will require prompt surgical removal.
An inhaled foxtail seed which has lodged in the nasal cavity may cause violent sneezing, sometimes with a bloody discharge from the nostrils. To remove it, a veterinarian may need to sedate the animal, locate the seed with a scope, and remove it with forceps. Swallowed foxtail seeds lodged in the throat will cause symptoms of an inflamed sore throat. A dog will swallow repeatedly, gulp, cough and gag. Even if the barbed seeds can be detected on examination, the dog will need to be sedated to relax the throat muscles so a veterinarian can grasp the seeds and remove them.