Although you may not think so, grass seeds are one of the most common problems encountered by pets (especially dogs!) over the warmer months. Once tangled in the fur, they can easily penetrate the skin and are notorious for the way they manage to burrow deeply into the body. Many unsuspecting owners may not realise the extent to which their pet has been affected until the seed has already penetrated well into the skin! In many cases, surgery under deep sedation may be the only option for removing a stubborn seed. Grass seeds tend to become more prevalent from late spring up to the end of summer.
Grass seeds are shaped in such a way that it they only trek inwards once caught in your pet’s coat. Their pointed head and arrow-shaped fibres enable them to cling and tangle in fur, and their awn makes travelling backwards extremely difficult. They can become lodged almost anywhere on or in a dog given enough fur and time!
The seeds are sources of infection that cause inflammation and painful swelling, which then develop into an abscess. They tend to require surgical removal, as they usually cannot be broken down by the body alone. It is therefore not simply enough to provide antibiotics to eradicate the seeds as although they will initially tackle the infection and reduce the initial swelling, it will keep returning as long as the seed remains in the body.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms depend on where the seed initially lodges and begins to migrate. Here are the most common locations:
Nose: Commonly we will see bloody nasal discharge if your dog gets a grass seed stuck in this area. This is usually accompanied by continuous sneezing and rubbing of the nose or face.
Ears: Your dog may shake or scratch their ears, rub their head along the floor or walk at a tilted angle. The ear might also be sore to touch and the dog may constantly hold their head to one side.
Skin: The dog may try to remove the grass seed by licking and chewing a specific area. The awn might visibly protrude from the skin, which could appear swollen and red with pus or blood. From here the seed can move into the abdomen or chest, in which case surgery is definitely required to remove it.
Feet: Signs of a grass seed in the feet are swelling, redness and sometimes a small weeping hole between the toes. Dogs will often try to lick or chew the affected area. They may also limp or hold their leg up. A seed can travel from the feet up through the leg, all the way up to the chest or joints.
Depending on how deeply embedded the seed is, it may be possible for the vet to extract it without too much discomfort to your pet with the appropriate instruments. If the seed is quite embedded then anaesthesia or deep sedation will be required so the area the seed has penetrated can be thoroughly explored and cleaned. Medications are often required afterwards to reduce pain and clear up any infection the grass seed would have caused upon entrance through the skin.
There are some measures you can take to reduce grass seeds becoming a problem in your beloved pet.
First, try to stay away from walking your dog in fields with long grass as much as possible - stick to areas where it has been cut short. This includes keeping grass in your own garden short!
Second, ensure that any excessive hair around the paws, ears and arm pits are trimmed on a regular basis - especially over grass seed season - so the seeds cannot easily catch on and tangle in the fur.
Third, make sure to check your dog’s body thoroughly for grass seeds after every walk – particularly between the toes! Take note of anything that looks unusual or any different behaviour or symptoms your dog may be exhibiting.
If you think they may have a grass seed stuck somewhere in their body, or they are displaying some strange behaviour, take them to the vet before it becomes too late to do anything about it. The earlier the problem is identified, the quicker (and cheaper!) it can be treated before it spreads too far and becomes a serious surgical problem.