Dog Owners’ Guide
to California Foxtails
A serious hazard for field dogs, or any dogs in the field, are the
hard seed-bearing structures of some kinds of grasses, often called
"foxtails". These structures have sharp points at one end, and
microscopic barbs, so that they easily move in the direction of the
point, but not the other way. They "work in", but they don’t "work out".
They can become imbedded in the hair, especially the paws and ears, and
in nostrils and even eyes. As they work their way in, they cause
infection, and if not treated can sometimes be fatal. Southern
California has a number of different grasses with this nasty feature,
most of them originally from Mediterranean Europe, and most of them
The purpose of this web page is to help you identify some of the
most common of these grasses in southern California. The same species
are found in other parts of the Southwest, and similar species are found
across North America, although sometimes with different common names.
most troublesome grass is the actual "foxtail" or "wild barley" (Hordeum
murinum). The individual reproductive structures are small and easy
to overlook. This grass is common in weedy areas around roads, paths,
and other disturbances. It is an annual, and is soft and green from
January through March or April. As the seed heads dry in the late
spring, they become dangerous, and they stay that way throughout the
summer and early fall. Here are some closeups.
|Several other grasses can cause problems, too (like
foxtail, they are all annuals, and worst in the late spring and summer).
The one with the nastiest name is ripgut grass (Bromus diandrus,
left); it actually perforates the guts of cattle when they eat it, and
can easily kill a dog, but it is much larger than foxtail and easier to
see in the coat. Ripgut grass is common on grassy hillsides, but not
common in disturbed areas.
Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum, not shown) is similar to ripgut,
Some California native grasses, especially the needlegrasses, can
cause problems for dogs as well, but they are much less common.