Oska and the grass seed

Meet Oska, a 9-year-old Labrador, who was out on a walk and suddenly started shaking his head. He kept shaking his head all the way home and when his owners tried to touch his right ear he let out a little yelp. He was taken straight down to the vet clinic and when he was examined by Dr Nathalie. She found what appeared to be the tip of grass seed down his right ear. Oska was given a general anaesthetic so that Dr Nathalie was able to look down his ear properly and a grass seed was found.  After the grass seed was removed he was given an anti-inflammatory injection and thankfully Oska made a full recovery. 

As it starts warming up, and summer seems to be getting closer, this is the time to be keeping an eye out for grass seeds. They can cause problems for our canine friends, most commonly longer haired active dogs that are exercised in reserves, paddocks or long grasses.  

How do grass seeds cause problems?  

These seeds can enter the nose, get between the eye and eyelids, be found between the toes, or make their way into the gums, ears, toes, or other parts of an animal's body. The seeds that cause the most problems are those shaped like small darts. They have a very sharp point and a long tail. When they come in contact with an animal's skin or other body part, they prick it. A small swelling may result. If the awn or seed is not removed immediately, it may actually start to burrow in. Some can travel many inches, reaching the animal's internal organs. 

What are the signs a grass seed may be present?  

Pets may react differently depending upon the number, location, and shape of the seed. It is best to look out for:  

Hair: If large seeds are in the hair behind the ears of a dog, there may not be any signs of a problem other than matted hair.

Ear: A seed in the ear canal may cause the pet to shake his head, scratch at the ear, rub his ear on the floor, or hold his head at a slightly tilted angle. 

Eye: A seed between the eye and the eyelid may cause the eye to become red and inflamed, sometimes with discharge or tears. An ulcer of the cornea could result and possibly lead to vision loss.  

Nose: A seed in the nose may cause the animal to sneeze, paw at the nose, and may result in some nasal discharge. 

Skin: A pet may chew at an area where seeds have become attached on the skin, and one or more of the following may occur: 

  1. The pet is able to remove the seeds. 
  2. The seeds become attached to the gums, tongue, and mouth. 
  3. The seeds are swallowed. If swallowed, they may stick to the back of the throat near the tonsils and cause inflammation and swelling. Pets with seeds in this area may cough, retch, or gag, and have difficulty eating and swallowing. 
  4. The seeds burrow deeper into the skin. If this occurs, swelling, abscesses, and open draining sores may result. 

Lungs and other organs: Seeds and awns can be accidentally inhaled or migrate from the skin into the chest and enter the lung where they can cause very serious life-threatening abscesses. They can also penetrate into the abdominal organs. When internal organs are affected, a pet may become very ill, not eat, and develop a fever. The pet may also have obvious problems such as vomiting or difficulty breathing. 

What can I do to protect my pet? 

Pets who spend more time outside, especially field dogs and working breeds, are at most risk of having problems due to awns and seeds. If possible, prevent your pet from running through areas of tall grass, or grass that is obviously seeding. Clipping long-haired pets who go outside in the spring may also be helpful. Protective vests are also commercially available. 

When returning from a walk, groom your dog immediately and remove any seeds. Check closely between the toes, in the ears, and in the "armpits" and groin areas, since these are common places to find seeds and awns. If you find a seed, try removing it with a pair of tweezers. If you cannot remove the seed, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible, since it will only become more deeply buried and harder to take out. 

Once seeds and awns become buried, either in the skin, mouth, or other places, it is often very difficult to find them, and often requires surgery. The entry point may or may not be visible, and it is often difficult to find the tiny seed itself, especially if it has migrated several inches. Having to make several different incisions in an attempt to find the seed is often necessary, and there may be more than one seed. Some animals have had to be placed on antibiotic medications for very long periods of time due to infections caused by plant seeds and awns. 

Protect your pet from encounters with grass seeds and awns. If you suspect your pet is having a problem due to seeds, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.