As spring turns into summer, the grass starts to set seed. Grass seeds, particularly those known as foxtails, can cause severe problems in our dogs.
The barbs on the grass seed stick firmly to a dog’s coat and, with the movement of the fur and skin, start to move towards, and even into, the skin, causing irritation and pain.
In severe cases, grass seeds can penetrate through the skin and lodge deep into the muscle or the chest or abdominal cavity, causing very deep infections which are very difficult to treat. Dogs can also inhale grass seeds, leading to severe lung infections.
What are the signs of a grass seed injury?
The signs vary depending on the part of the body affected.
If the grass seed has got into the ear, the dog will normally be shaking its head intensely, may hold the head to one side with the affected ear lower down and scratch at the ear.
If the grass seed is in the paw, the dog may limp on the affected leg, and will often lick or chew the foot. There may be a swelling between the toes with a small wound and pus present.
If there is a grass seed in the eye, the dog will often hold their eye shut, there may be redness of the eye and discharge.
If there is a grass seed in the nose, the dog will usually sneeze violently.
If the grass seed has penetrated deeper into the tissues, there may be a lump which settles down when on antibiotics but comes back again once the medication finishes. Grass seeds in the lungs may cause a long-term cough.
If you notice any of these signs, contact your vet as soon as possible.
How is a grass seed injury treated?
Removal of the grass seed is really important as if it is left in place, it will continue to cause irritation and be a source of infection.
Removal of grass seeds in ears, or buried in the skin, is painful and will almost always require at least sedation, and often a general anaesthetic. Deeper grass seeds may require advanced imaging (e.g. ultrasound, CT or MRI) to locate them. A course of antibiotics will be needed if the grass seed has penetrated the skin to treat secondary bacterial infection.
How can I protect my dog from grass seeds?
While it is impossible to eliminate the risk altogether, there is lots that can be done to reduce the risk.
- Avoid walking your dog in long grassy areas.
- Keep hair around ears and paws short to reduce the risk of grass seeds sticking and make them easier to see.
- Check your dog’s ears, face and feet immediately after walking through long grass and the whole body thoroughly at the end of every walk. Pay particular attention to the area between the toes on the top of the foot. Remove any grass seeds that you can see.
- Keep your dog’s coat well groomed. Grass seeds stick much better in matted areas.