The Dangers Of Grass Seeds And Plant Awns

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Summer is finally here and many of us are taking our dogs for lovely long walks through fields and woods. But at this time of year at Castle Vets we start to see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of the body. This article will hopefully help raise awareness on this extremely painful problem.

During hot summery conditions grasses and plants start to dry out and their barbed seeds begin to scatter. These can cause major problems for our dogs (and occasionally other pets), who often get these seeds caught in their paws, nostrils, ears, eyes and skin. The problem is that these seeds have ‘one-way’ barbs that allow the seed to work its way through the fur, in one direction only, and then into the skin of the animal. If they are not found and removed quickly, these seeds have been known to work their way through the skin and end up causing serious problems as they migrate further into the body.

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Grass seed and plant awns cause serious problems for pets at this time of year

The most common places we see grass seeds or plant awns

Paws – The grass seed gets hooked into the fur, especially in the groves between the toes on top of the paw and the between the pads beneath the paw, and then starts making its way toward the skin. It can then penetrate the skin and burrow deeper into the tissue leaving a tract (narrow tunnel) behind. The first sign of this is usually persistent licking and/or nibbling between the toes or of the whole paw because the grass seed causes pain, discomfort, swelling, inflammation, lameness and infection.

Ears – Grass seeds that get caught in the ear hair can soon make their way down the ear canal and end up next to the very delicate ear drum. The signs of this are usually pawing of the ear, head shaking, rubbing the head/ear on the ground and also inflammation (redness) of the ear flap. If left the grass seed may penetrate the ear drum and cause worse problems,

Nose – Grass seeds are sometimes inhaled by the animal and then get lodged in the nasal passage. The signs of this are usually sneezing or snorting, pawing at the nose and some nasal discharge.

Other less common places can include the eyes where the seed causes irritation to the surrounding area or even penetrates the eye itself. Or the mouth where the seeds can get lodged in the gums or throat causing irritation, pain and discomfort. From here the seed could travel down into the body causing abscesses and damage to internal organs.

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Seeds and awns in the paw, ear and nose

Removal of grass seeds and plant awns

If you are lucky you may find the seed as it is just starting to penetrate the skin. These can usually be pulled out gently with some tweezers and the wound can be bathed and treated with an antiseptic solution.

Once a grass seed has penetrated the skin the process becomes much more difficult. Because they are vegetable matter, grass seeds and awns will not show up on an X-ray and can be very difficult for the vet to locate; it is often like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack!.
In most cases the patient will need a heavy sedation or a general anaesthetic before the vet can remove the seed because of the pain and inflammation caused.

When removing seeds from the ear canal the vet uses the otoscope to look down the ear canal and a pair of sterile crocodile forceps (pictured), which are narrow and long and have a grasping mechanism that can be used to remove the seed once it has been located.

For seeds in the paws and skin, the vet will again use the crocodile forceps by inserting them into the tract left by the seed as it entered the skin, unfortunately because the seed cannot be seen this is often a very frustrating procedure for the vet, and may require several attempts with several anaesthetics for the pet.

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Crocodile forceps

Prevention is better than cure!

  • Be particularly vigilant at checking your pet’s coat for grass seeds, plant seeds and burs that may become entangled in the hair.
  • Daily grooming will help remove any attached seeds and help you check for any suspicious looking areas or wounds.
  • Keep hair around the feet, foot pads and ears trimmed short if possible, as this will help prevent grass seeds attaching.
  • Avoid walking in areas with long grasses during this time of year.
  • Don’t allow your dog to chew grasses that have seed heads on them.
  • If your pet is showing any signs of discomfort, such as licking, lameness, head shaking, excessive sneezing, coughing etc. or if you find a wound that you suspect could be from a seed take them to the vet as soon as possible. The quicker we can remove the seed, the less damage it will do.

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Heatstroke

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Summer is finally here and the weather is getting much warmer (hooray!). Most of us will be planning to be outside in the hot weather, soaking up the sun or enjoying walks and trips with the family and our dogs. However, the heat can pose serious risks to your dog’s health if precautions are not taken to keep them cool. Heat stroke is a serious and life threatening condition that can affect dogs of any age, breed and fitness level. Fortunately, heatstroke is usually preventable if you take precautions in the warm weather.

How dogs get heatstroke

The normal body temperature of a dog is approximately 38.5ºC.

In warm weather dogs get rid of excess heat by panting, which exchanges the warmer air in the body for the cooler air from the environment. (Dogs don’t sweat like humans, although they can release some moisture through the pads in their feet and their nose it is not enough to cool them down). When the environmental temperature reaches 29ºC or higher it becomes more and more difficult for the dog to cool down. Exercising during hot weather, even just a short walk, can increase panting and they will start to overheat. Once a dog’s temperature rises above 41ºC heatstroke is the result and damage to the body’s cellular system, nervous system and organs such as the brain, heart and liver may become irreversible .

Common causes of heatstroke

  • Being left in the car – On a sunny day (it doesn’t even have to be particularly hot), it can take 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to reach 39ºC, in 30 to 60 minutes it can reach 47ºC!
  • Being left in a conservatory or caravan (this will have the same effect as being left in a car)
  • Being confined to an area with no shade and/or water in hot weather
  • Excessive exercise in hot weather
  • Overweight and short nosed dog breeds are more susceptible to heatstroke because they cannot cool down as effectively.

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Common Signs Of Heatstroke

  • Rapid or frantic panting300_651942
  • Excessive thirst
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Rapid heart/pulse rate
  • Thick saliva
  • Very red (dark) gums
  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Dizziness and/or disorientation
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Collapse
  • Convulsions

What you can do to prevent heatstroke

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day. Temperatures can soar in just a few minutes (after 5 minutes of the air conditioning being turned off, the inside temperature of the car will match the environmental temperature and start getting warmer). Open windows and sun shields will not keep your car cool enough.
  • If you have to take your dog on a car journey, make sure to keep them cool and have plenty of fresh water available at all times.
  • Don’t take your dog out in the middle of the day when it is hottest, try to exercise your dog early morning and late evening when it is cooler.
  • Don’t allow your dog to over exert itself in the warm weather and try to keep energetic activities to a minimum during the hottest parts of the day.
  • If your dog likes to lie out in the garden, make sure you provide shade, keep the water bowl full and supervise at all times so you can see if they are getting to hot.
  • Regular grooming to remove excessive hair and clipping of longer coated breeds will help keep them cool.
  • If your dog enjoys water you could play with the sprinkler, hose , or even fill the paddling pool to keep him or her cool. For those that aren’t keen on water you could soak a bath towel in cold water and put this on the ground for them to lie on.
  • Take water and a bowl with you for your dog if you are going to be out for longer than 30 minutes in hot weather.
  • Keep a very close eye on your dog if it is a short nosed breed (Boxer, Pug, Shih Tzu, Bulldog etc), overweight or suffers with a heart condition as these dogs are more likely to overheat in warm weather.

Keeping your dog cool

What to do if your dog shows symptoms of heatstroke

Move him or her to a cool area (preferably with air conditioning or a fan to cool them off)heat-stroke

Assess your dog’s condition:

  • Can he/she stand?
  • Is he/she panting normally?

If yes, keep inside and offer water little and often and call the veterinary practice for advice.

  • Is he/she panting excessively?
  • Staggering/collapsing when trying to move?
  • Have dark red gums?
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea?
  • Have a rapid heart/pulse rate?
  • Unable to stand up?
  • Disorientated or out of sorts?
  • Unresponsive to voice, touch or sight?
  • Having convulsions?
  • Completely collapsed or unconscious?

If yes to any of the above call the vet immediately and get your dog to the veterinary practice as quickly as possible. You can begin the cooling process by soaking his/her body with cool (not cold) water. Wet towels that have been soaked in water are great for this.

If you are concerned that your dog may have heatstroke and want advice please contact Castle Vets on 0118 9574488 or  Vets Now on  0118 959 4007 if it is an emergency outside our normal working hours.

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