SAN DIEGO — Winter rainfall has left San Diego County in full bloom, but among the plethora of wildflowers is an invasive weed armed with clusters of spiked seed pods that could burrow into your dog’s skin.

A seemingly leisurely outing on a hiking trail or quick sprint about in a grassy area can quickly become a very painful experience for pets if they encounter “mean seeds,” a term used in reference to foxtails.

These clusters of grass have barbed awns or seed heads which resemble the tail of a fox. Once they break down into spikelets, foxtails — as sly as they come — could burrow directly into the skin of a dog that comes in contact with them, explained Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo, a North County practice.

The American Kennel Club explained these prickly menaces further saying dogs may pick up a grass awn on an ear, eye, mouth, nose or between their toes. The barbed seeds could then travel inside the animal from the nose to the brain or even into a lung, said canine professionals.

Once these seeds begin burrowing, Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo says they “wreak havoc on infected pets” and could cause painful damage or an infection until they are removed. Methods of removal may include sedation or surgery, along with other treatments.

Here are six signs that your dog may have come in contact with a foxtail, according to Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo.

  1. Your pet shows signs of a painful or infected ear.
  2. Your pet is displaying head tilting or shaking.
  3. Your pet is experiencing acute, severe sneezing.
  4. Your pet has nasal discharge or bleeding.
  5. Your pet has squinty eyes or shows signs of eye pain.
  6. Your pet has red, painful bumps between their toes.

There are ways to prevent your pet from being impacted by these “mean seeds,” with the most simple solution being to avoid them altogether.

Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo says foxtails are usually found along trails, in open spaces and in unlandscaped areas. They are common in late spring through summer and can be identified by their bushy clusters.

After walks or hikes, pet owners should check their canines and brush off any signs of foxtails. Keeping your pet’s feet trimmed is also helpful, said Advanced Veterinary Care of San Elijo.

The North County practice also warned pet owners to inspect their own yards to ensure foxtails aren’t invading their pet’s home space.

Veterinarian professionals have advised pet owners to seek medical care if their dog starts to exhibit any symptoms of foxtail burrowing.

Keep your furry friends safe this “mean seed” season by keeping these useful tips in mind while enjoying San Diego’s great outdoors.