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Grass Awns and Foxtail - Protect your pets

Be on the lookout for these tiny and troublesome weeds

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Foxtail (Hordeum jubatum) by André Karwath / Wikipedia

Foxtail (Hordeum jubatum)

by André Karwath / Wikipedia
Late summer is the time to be on alert for various "invaders" from the plant world. During dry conditions these seed pods will be seen earlier in the season. As these plants dry out and the barbed seed pods begin to scatter, this can mean trouble for pets who get them caught in paws, eyes nostrils and embedded in fur and skin. Daily checks and quick removal are the key to preventing serious problems in the future.

Similar plants, known by many names

Cheatgrass, also known as Cheat grass (two words), June Grass, Downy Brome, grass awn, or by the scientific name, Bromus tectorum L., is a common and invasive type of weed, found in many parts of North America. It is also called foxtail.

Why it is dangerous for pets

The danger for pets lies in the "invasiveness" of the dry seed pods found in late summer and early fall. These pods have one-way microscopic barbs that allow the seed to work its way into fur, skin, and mucous membranes, but not work itself back out, much like the one-way movement of porcupine quills. Foxtail weeds shed very small black seeds which also work their way into fur, skin, and tissue.

Finding grass awns on pets

These annoying and troublesome weeds have been found in the skin, between the toes (very common), eyes, ears, mouth, vulva; basically anywhere on the body. They can even work their way through skin to interior body cavities such as lungs and abdomen, causing sometimes very serious infections as they migrate though, and get lodged in, body tissues. It is important not to underestimate the potential seriousness of this common problem.

Grass awn prevention tips

Daily skin and foot checks plus quick removal will reduce or eliminate potential serious and expensive problems. Both cats and dogs are affected, but cats seem to be better at grooming and removing these weeds.

Tips to recognize potential problems and keep grass awns away from your pets.

  • Keep weeds out of your pet's yard and enclosure.
  • Keep pets out of dry grassy fields and roadsides.
  • Keep your pet's coat clean and well-groomed. This will help reduce grass seed accumulation and make for easier daily inspections.
  • Inspect your pet daily for hair mats (where grass awns like to hide) and between toes.
  • Clipping the hair between paw pads in dogs will reduce potential for picking up grass awns.
  • Any time your pet is excessively sneezing, drooling, shaking their head, scratching ears, whining, licking at their paw or other body part excessively, please have them checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
  • For dogs out in the field, you may want to consider a commercial product, such as the OutFox® Field Guard to keep grass awns away from eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

Grass awn problems in pets

Animals with an infected grass awn penetration will show signs typical of an infection: lethargy, loss of appetite, painful swellings, or signs of drainage.

Feet are common problem areas. Look for excessive licking, redness, drainage, swelling between toes. You may also see a small "puncture hole" between the toes. Some dogs may limp.

Finding and removing a grass awn before it can embed and infect will save a lot of trouble. These grass seeds will not simply fall out the way they came in the vast majority of cases. This problem tends to continue to worsen over time.

Grass awn problems on your property

For assistance in getting rid of these noxious weeds around your property, please contact your local extension agent for more information about local weed control in your area.

Related Reading and photos
Cheatgrass
Photos, distribution map and detailed plant information from Utah State University.

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