As seasonal nasties, grass seeds can inflict misery on our canine friends. What are the signs of a grass seed problem and how come something so small can cause a rather big problem?
For such tiny objects, grass seeds can cause a lot of trouble, especially in the summer months. Dogs often get them lodged in their ear canals, or between their toes when romping outside or on a walk, and they can cause a lot of pain and irritation.
It’s hard to dodge the problem entirely, since dogs love being outdoors and need regular exercise, but some grasses are particularly worth avoiding. Foxtails, for example, are grasses with razor-sharp seeds that resemble little torpedoes in the shape of a fox’s tail. A common foxtail grass problematic to dogs is wild barley – the dry grass seeds easily attach themselves to an animal’s fur, then work their way down to pierce the skin or enter the ear canal.
Signs of the seed
The telltale warning signs to watch out for are the sudden onset of head shaking and paw licking, especially shortly after a walk. If your dog is pawing at their head and an ear, they might have grass seed lodged in their ear canal. Sometimes dogs will also hold their heads to the side in an attempt to shake it out.
It’s a good idea to check your dog all over for any lurking grass seeds after every walk, as they can become stuck in a number of places, including eyelids and lip folds, as well as the paws and ears.
If your dog has grass seeds lodged in the skin between the toes, you may see a red raised ‘boil’ that the dog has been licking for a day or two. There's often a small hole and sometimes the tip of the grass seed may be visible. The dog's paw may be swollen or sore if the grass seed has moved into the foot.
Grass seed treatment
If your dog has a grass seed lodged in their ear canal, you won’t be able to spot the seed because it will be trapped deep inside, but a vet can make a diagnosis by using an otoscope to look down the ear canal and remove the seed with forceps if necessary. Due to their pendulous ears, Cockapoos, Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels are the most commonly affected breeds.
If you see any signs of lurking grass seeds on your dog, you should consult your vet for advice as soon as possible. After removal of the seed, often under anaesthetic, the dog is usually treated with painkillers and antibiotics to counter any infection.
All breeds with hairy ears and feet are at particular risk from grass seed, but you could take preventative action by avoiding long-grassed areas and keeping the fur around your dog’s ears and feet trimmed short during summertime.