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 the summer months 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.
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.
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.
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.