Grass Seeds and the dangers to dogs

Knowing the risks that grass seeds can bring to dogs is important as we move into the summer months and spend more time outside with our dogs.

As we head into the spring and summer months, the days are becoming brighter and we tend to spend more time outdoors with our four-legged friends. With the change in season it’s important for us, as pet owners, to be aware of any potential new risks to our pets. Many dog owners will have heard of grass seeds; either from their own experience or knowing somebody with a dog that's been affected by grass seeds. In 2019 Petplan paid 3,738 claims for grass seed related treatments and injuries. So, whether you’re heading to the local park, or looking for new places to explore, read on for all you need to know.

What are grass seeds?

Grass seeds, also known as grass darts, are attached to long stems of grass, commonly found in the summer season. They are usually clustered together and disperse in order to reproduce grass growth in the wild.

Whilst some grass seeds can be harmless; others such as foxtail (spear grass) and wild barley can be extremely harmful to dogs and other animals. Most barley grass seeds are weeds and rely on foot traffic for dispersing. These seeds are pointy, sharp and often barbed, proving difficult to remove should they latch onto an animal. They tend to be found in areas with long grass, so it’s important to keep watch of where your dog is roaming.

Why are they harmful to dogs?

For such tiny objects, grass seeds can cause a lot of trouble for our pets. Many grass seeds are dry and will latch onto fur, often becoming matted or wedged between the toes. If spotted immediately, they can be removed without causing harm. However, a common grass seed that is often problematic to dogs is wild barley; this seed will work its way through the fur and can pierce through the skin or enter the ear canal. If this occurs grass seed can cause a lot of pain and irritation, often becoming lodged.

Due to the pointy shape of grass seeds, they tend to travel in one direction, meaning in some instances they can move on to different parts of the body once they’ve pierced the skin - making them much harder to find. Also, they won’t show up on an x-ray, making them extremely difficult to locate if this does happen. Not only are the grass seeds themselves dangerous due to their sharpness, they can also carry infections, which may lead to swelling and irritation.

Some worst case scenarios have involved grass seeds going into the eye area and even being inhaled through the nasal passage, down into the lungs, which have caused more severe long-term injuries.

Signs your dog has a grass seed

The tell-tale warning signs to watch out for are redness, skin irritation, head shaking and paw licking, especially taking place shortly after a walk outside. If you notice your dog is pawing at their head and ear, they might have a grass seed lodged in their ear canal, causing irritation. Sometimes dogs will also hold their heads to the side in an attempt to shake it out. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to spot the seed yourself at this point as it will probably be trapped deep inside the ear canal. However a vet can make a diagnosis, using an otoscope to look down the ear canal and remove the seed with forceps if necessary.

Other signs to look out for are continuous sneezing, chewing at an affected area, as well as blood and/or discharge from a small wound.

How to check your dog for grass seeds

Getting into the habit of checking your dog all over for any lurking grass seeds after every walk could help to prevent grass seed injuries. They can become stuck in a number of places, including eyelids and lip folds, as well as in the paws and ears. If your dog has long or thick hair, regular brushing will not only help to identify any lodged seeds, but will prevent matting which increases the risk of seeds getting caught.

Although dogs with open pointy ears, such German Shepherds , may seem more at risk to grass seeds entering the ear canal, it’s just as important to carefully check dogs with floppy ears, such as Spaniels . Dogs with floppy ears are actually more prone to grass seeds getting stuck in the ear area as once they are there; it’s more difficult for them to be dislodged.

When to see a vet?

If your dog displays any of the signs above or after inspecting your dog, you notice a very small, suspicious-looking sore between their toes or anywhere else on the skin, you should consult your vet for advice as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to diagnose and remove the seed, often under anaesthetic, and will usually provide painkillers and antibiotics to counter any infection.

Until your appointment, there’s nothing you can do in the meantime except prevent your dog from licking its paw using an Elizabethan style collar if you have one. If you don’t, try to keep an eye on your dog and distract them from licking where possible.

While the summer months are great for bringing more walks into your routine, remember it’s best to avoid long grass if you can. This doesn’t mean you should restrict you’re your four legged friend from exploring, but always check your dog for anything unusual that may have latched to their fur whilst out and about.

All breeds with hairy ears and feet are particularly at risk of a grass seeds becoming caught in their fur, but you could take preventative action by keeping the fur around your dog’s ears and feet trimmed short during the summer months.

Share this article to spread the awareness of checking your dog regularly for grass seeds during the summer months.

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