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  • Writer's pictureHalsey

Spray now to avoid pain later

Today I am giving you a recipe for weed killer. Why? One word: FOXTAILS

If you are new to our area, or reading this blog from afar, let me fill you in on foxtails. In San Diego, and really throughout California, we have a special type of grass that puts up a spike of seeds (or awns). What we call a foxtail refers to multiple species of grasses from the genera Alopecurus and Setaria. The spike of seeds looks like a bushy fox's tail.

This grassy weed grows quickly after rain and at first it seems great that something is growing. When the weather warms up however, the spike dries out and its components, or spikelets, are released into the environment. The dry spikelets are barbed and only move one way once embedded in something - forward.


Yes, they stick in your socks and poke at your ankles. But they also stick into your dog. They fly up and get stuck in ears, eyes, noses, and more. They get embedded into skin of the paws or other areas (I've seen them in lung lobes, liver lobes, random skin of the armpit, and even an anal gland!).

Foxtails can make a great day hike turn into an emergency trip to the vet. Signs will vary depending on where they are located, but include a sudden onset of sneezing (in the nose), holding the head sideways and the ear down (in the ear canal), squinting (in the eyelid), coughing/gagging (in the tonsillar crypt), licking the paw (suck in the toe), swelling (abscess) or other. One of the most common presentations is in the paw. The foxtail pokes into the tender skin on the underside of the paw and migrates through the skin, creating pain and infection in its wake.

What to do?

The first step is prevention. Pull weeds when you see them in the yard or use the weed killing recipe provided here. This weed killer is made using vinegar and soap. The soap helps the vinegar stay on the plant and the vinegar kills the plant without leaving behind a toxic residue. If you do not want anything to grow in the area ever, then add salt to the recipe as well. If you are using near other plants that you like, or want to use the area later, do not add the salt. Use a spray bottle or industrial size spray canister to apply. This is most effective when done early on a sunny day, so the sun will activate the vinegar on the plant to kill the leaves.

only use the salt if you don't want anything to grow in the area

Putting down weed barrier and mulch can greatly reduce the weeds in your yard. Use products such as decomposed granite or pavers to cover areas where nothing is growing. Mowing early helps, but many of these weeds will put out spikes close to the ground. Mowing once the spikes have dried only works if you collect the debris. And if you really, really, don't want anything to grow - get a goat!

There are also products available to cover your dog's face while out on a hike, such as the OutFox. You can put booties on your dog's feet to protect their paws, and I've even seen lycra bodysuits.

Cats are generally only at risk if going outside.

The second step is monitoring. After a hike or trip outdoors, check your dog's paws. Run a finger through the underside of the toes between the pads and feel for any plant material. If you've just been in an area known for foxtails, also check armpits, and do a general comb through long hair. Short haired dogs should get an all over body rub to feel for anything stuck. And don't forget to lift up the tail - those foxtails can get stuck when your dog takes a potty break. Outdoor cats (especially those with long hair) should be brushed daily.

The third step is knowing when to seek help. If your pet is ever holding an eye shut that should trigger an urgent call to the vet. Sudden onset of sneezing, holding one ear down, a gagging cough, a swollen toe - all of these should make you want to call your vet. And in general, if you are worried, I am worried, and I want you to be talking to your vet. If its after hours, then contact the local urgent care/emergency facility.

Wishing you all a fun & safe spring & summer!

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