Updated November 28, 2020
Grass seed season in southern Australia is that time between October and year’s end when extra care is needed. All dog owners need to know how to prevent and treat this menace. The same also applies to cats to a lesser extent.
What is a Grass Seed?
The grass seed that causes most problems in dogs comes from a weed called barley grass. It sheds little awns called foxtails that have a sharp point and tiny barbs for attaching to the hair of animals.
When a dog walks past, the grass seed sticks to the dog and the point starts working its way into the body.
How Are Grass Seeds Dangerous To Dogs?
Grass seeds can become lodged in many places in dogs. In order of frequency, these include:
- The paw
- The ear
- The nose
- The eye
- The body
More places I’ve seen them go have been in the gums, the tonsils, the vagina, the chest and the abdomen. In other words, basically anywhere.
What Do Grass Seed Problems Look Like?
I’ll go through each of the common places and show you what to look for.
A Grass Seed in a Dogs Paw
Does your dog have a blister or red bump on the top of the paw that’s being licked constantly? In the right time of year, the most common cause is a grass seed. The picture at the start shows the classic appearance of a seed in the foot.
Prevention: check between the toes after every walk and keep your yard free of barley grass. In country areas, dogs may need to be kept near the house. If you have a hairy dog like in the picture, ask your groomer for ‘poodle feet’ in Spring.
It’s a great idea for puppy owners to get their pup used to foot handling from the very beginning. Gentle handling accompanied by praise and treats will make later inspections a breeze.
Removing Grass Seeds From The Paw
If you find a seed between the toes shortly after it attaches, you can easily remove it with finger and thumb. Once the seed has disappeared and all you see is a small hole, only a vet can remove it. The procedure requires deep sedation, pain control, the correct tools, and an experienced hand. You’ll see me remove one in the second video.
This video shows how grass seeds move and then how to check paws.
A Grass Seed in a Dogs Ear
A dog that suddenly starts frantically shaking the head and scratching or rubbing the ear often has a grass seed in the ear canal. This is especially true if your dog doesn’t normally get ear infections. If the seed isn’t removed an infection will develop within a few days.
Prevention: avoid unmown areas of long grass when seeds are present. Unlike the feet, grass seeds enter the ear so quickly that checking usually isn’t going to prevent one getting in.
Removing Grass Seeds From The Ear
Only a vet can remove a grass seed from the ear. The less squeamish among you can watch me remove one below. This is for vets only: without the correct tools and an unconscious dog, any attempt will be useless. It will also cause severe pain and damage hearing.
Beware: just because your dog appears to improve does not mean that the seed has gone. Dogs are masters in hiding pain and will ‘get used to’ anything. I have seen grass seeds left in ears for years, always causing permanent damage. I have never seen one come out by itself.
A Grass Seed in a Dogs Nose
Dogs have a violent and prolonged bout of sneezing when a grass seed goes up their nose. It usually starts suddenly and is severe enough that dogs bang their nose on the ground when sneezing.
Prevention: like for ears: all you can do is avoid access to seeded and unmown areas of longer grass.
Removing Grass Seeds From The Nose
The size, complexity, and length of a dog’s nose make it a challenge to remove grass seeds. Under anaesthetic, we pass a scope until we can see the tips of the awn hairs. Then we grasp them with ‘alligator forceps’ (yes, that’s really what they’re called).
A Grass Seed in a Dogs Eye
A grass seed lodged in a dog’s eye just looks like any severe eye infection or conjunctivitis. The difference is that if it stays there, serious damage to the cornea can ensue.
Prevention: like for ears and noses: other than staying away from unkempt areas, it’s a case of rotten luck when it happens.
Removing Grass Seeds From The Eye
Please never attempt to remove a foreign body from the eye, even if you can grasp it. It may have perforated the cornea and you are risking severe eye injury. The video shows me removing one under local anaesthetic once I had judged it to be safe.
A Grass Seed in a Dogs Body
The best clue to a grass seed in the body is a firm, painful lump or abscess. Often there will also be blood or pus draining from a small hole. Removal is a surgical procedure under general anaesthetic.
Prevention: keep hair short and combed to prevent grass seeds from attaching or hiding in the coat. Check through medium- and long-haired dogs after walks.
I’m a big fan of clipping long-haired breeds in Summer. Despite what you’re told, the coat always grows back properly unless there is a medical problem.
Can Grass Seeds Kill Dogs?
Yes, although it is rare. A grass seed on the body can sometimes migrate into a vital area, especially the chest. In here it causes a severe infection called pyothorax.
Once the infection takes hold it is extremely difficult to find the foreign body that caused it, even for specialist surgeons.
Which Dogs Get Grass Seeds?
The chance of problems depends on a dog’s coat. Although all breeds can get grass seeds, long-haired non-shedding dogs are at a much higher risk.
Think of all the animals that have been brought to Australia and New Zealand in the past 200 years. Just about all of them went feral very quickly, except one. The sheep.
Without regular shearing, sheep don’t make it. They are dependant on us to keep them going. And so are our long-haired dogs.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.
Thanks to the owners of Hillary and Oliver for allowing their procedures to be shared.