Although you wouldn’t necessarily think so, grass seeds are one of the most common problems encountered by pets, especially dogs. They are notorious for their easy penetration of the skin and the way they manage to burrow into the body. An unsuspecting owner may not realise the extent to which their pet has been affected, as the only tell-tale signs might be irritation, biting or whining. This is complicated further by the fact grass seeds fail to show up on X-rays because they are vegetable matter. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for vets to know how large the problem is, and what treatment is necessary. In some cases, surgery may be the only option of removing the contaminant. You might start to notice grass seeds as they become more prevalent from late spring up to the end of summer, and they may be present on your dog’s body after taking them for a walk.
How do grass seeds affect animals?
Grass seeds are shaped in such a way that it can be difficult for one to escape from the body once it has made its way inside. Their pointed head and arrow-shaped fibres enable them to cling on to fur, and their awn makes travelling backwards extremely difficult. They can become lodged almost anywhere on or in a dog, from their eyes and ears to the pads on their feet, and can move around inside the body.
The seeds are sources of infection that cause inflammation and painful swelling, which then develop into an abscess. Further complications can arise from the transferral of soil into the body from the seeds. They tend to require removal, as they can’t usually be broken down. It is therefore not simply enough to provide antibiotics to eradicate the seeds as although they will initially tackle the infection, it will keep returning as long as the seed remains in the body.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Nose: There may be some bloody nasal discharge if your dog gets a grass seed stuck in this area. Continuous sneezing and rubbing of the nose or face are other signs, and the dog may struggle to breathe. A seed can damage the airways and may even move into the lungs, which is usually considered life threatening.
Eyes: The eye will seem swollen, inflamed and red, and may also be watery. Ulcers can appear, and the dog might rub at the site because of the irritation. Seeds can even enter the eye itself. Long-term problems can result in blindness, and the eye may even be removed depending on the severity of the problem.
Ears: Your dog may scratch their ears, rub their head along the floor, shake it and walk at a tilted angle. The ear might also be sore to touch and the dog may hold their head to one side. Infections can develop at the site, the ear drum could rupture and the dog might even go deaf or lose their balance permanently. They could die if the seed travels from this area into the brain.
Skin: The dog may try to remove the grass seed by licking and chewing a specific area. The awn might visibly protrude from the skin, which could appear swollen and red with pus or blood. From here the seed can move into the abdomen or chest, in which case surgery would probably have to be administered to remove it.
Feet: Signs of a seed in the feet are swelling, redness and a weeping hole. The dog will try to lick or chew the affected place, and limp or hold their leg up. A seed can travel from the feet up through the leg, all the way up to the chest or joints.
Stomach and lungs: It is possible for a dog to ingest and inhale grass seeds in a variety of ways. They might be picked up on food they eat off the ground, when they lick their coats or whilst walking or running through long grass. They can also be inhaled through the mouth and get stuck in the lungs, causing the dog to cough or retch. It is impossible to detect whether a grass seed has become stuck in the lungs until the infection is rather advanced, and the case may be that it is too late to treat. This may manifest itself in the form of a chest infection, pneumonia or collapsed lung.
Grass seeds can be digested if they find their way into the stomach, but it is still possible for them to pierce the digestive tract into the surrounding tissues and organs, thereby spreading the infection and travelling to other areas of the body.
A grass seed that gets stuck in the throat can cause inflammation and swelling. Reluctance to eat or refusing to eat at all, vomiting and coughing are all signs that are linked to swallowing a grass seed.
What are the treatment options?
Take your pet to the vet if you think they are being aggravated by a grass seed. There are a number of treatment options that may be available. Depending on how deeply embedded the seed is, it may be possible for the vet to extract it without too much discomfort from the pet. Otherwise, anaesthesia or sedatives may be required so the area the seed is present in can be explored. They are often removed using tweezers if present in the skin, ears or eyes. Further treatment and medication may be necessary if the seed has caused damage to the eye.
If a grass seed is thought to be the source of discomfort but it cannot be found, surgery may be necessary to remove it. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicine may be administered to combat any infection and inflammation where the seed has been lodged.
How can trouble with grass seeds be prevented?
It can be very difficult to prevent grass seeds from entering the body, but there are some measures you can take. Try to stay away from walking your dog in fields with long grass as much as possible, and stick to areas where it has been cut short. This includes making sure you cut the grass in your own garden regularly.
Excessive hair around the paws, ears and arm pits needs to be trimmed on a regular basis as it can pick up grass seeds more easily. Maintain regular grooming of your dog, but be careful not to cut the end off of a grass seed in the process, as it may then prove even more difficult to extract.
Make sure to check your dog’s body thoroughly for grass seeds after every walk, and take note of anything that looks unusual or any different behaviour your dog may be exhibiting. If you think they may have a grass seed stuck somewhere in their body, or they are displaying some strange behaviour, take them to the vet before it becomes too late to do anything about it. The earlier the problem is identified, the quicker it can be treated before it spreads too far.