As you watch your dog run happily through the long grass in a sunny meadow the last thing on your mind is a trip to the vets. But grass seeds (sometimes known as awns) are often a problem for dogs.

What are the risks to dogs?

During late spring and summer, long grasses produce their seeds. These seeds are sharp and pointed with tiny barbs on them

They are designed to fall onto the ground and become embedded in the soil until they germinate to form a new plant. This is a great design of nature but it can be a problem if they become trapped in your dog’s fur instead of falling onto the soil. 

Dogs love to run and play through the long grass but grass seeds can become caught in their fur as they do so. Due to their sharp and pointy shape they may then work their way into the coat, much like they would normally work their way into the soil. They are sharp enough to pierce the skin and have a tendency to bury themselves inside the body. 

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Common areas for grass seeds or awns to become trapped are the feet, ears, eyes, and armpits. Less commonly, grass seeds can become caught in the nose, mouth, genitals and other parts of the body. An embedded grass seed will always cause discomfort and pain with the exact signs depending on where in the body the grass seed has become trapped. 

Common symptoms to look out for

In all parts of the body, look for your dog showing signs of discomfort or excessive grooming or scratching. Any red painful swelling should be taken seriously with or without any wet discharge. If grass seeds are left they can migrate around the body and cause all sorts of problems, most notably abscesses and infections. 

In other areas, there may be different signs…

Feet

If a grass seed is embedded in the foot you will often see signs of lameness or discomfort when your pet is walking. They may excessively lick the foot and they may show signs of pain if you try to look at the area. If you do manage to examine the area yourself you may see an inflamed red swelling.

If the grass seed isn’t visible, you may see the hole in your pet’s skin where it has penetrated and gone inside the foot. The area may have some discharge too. Get your pet along to your vet if you see these signs as it is surprising how far up the leg these seeds can go and you are unlikely to be able to do anything yourself to remove it. 

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Ears

A dog with grass seed in his ear will be uncomfortable and will shake his head and scratch at the ear. The seed will cause irritation to the ear canal and may cause an ear infection if it is present for some time. If there is a secondary infection in the ear you may see some discharge or notice an unpleasant smell. Your vet will often be able to remove a grass seed from the ear fairly easily. Although, sedation or a general anaesthetic might be needed if it’s really sore. 

Eyes

Eyes can be severely damaged by grass seeds. A seed stuck in the eye is extremely painful and often causes corneal ulceration. Ultimately your pet could lose the eye if the grass seed works its way in too deeply or causes a deep corneal ulcer to form. Seek urgent veterinary attention if you think your pet has a grass seed in the eye.

Mouth and nose

If a grass seed is stuck in the mouth or nose you may notice excessive salivation, licking or sneezing. You may also start to notice an unpleasant smell, discharge from the nose or saliva tinged with blood. A grass seed that manages to find its way into the lungs is a serious matter and could be life-threatening. So do seek urgent care. 

In most cases grass seeds can be safely removed by your vet

Your dog may require sedation or anaesthesia to do this safely. Some follow up treatment may also be required such as antibiotics or pain relief. This will depend on your vet’s assessment and the particular location and presentation of the problem. In rare cases, the consequences can be serious. For example, if the seed has entered the lungs, when referral for special scans or treatment may be needed. 

Can grass seed issues be prevented?

To help avoid problems with grass seeds there are several simple measures which you can take. You may wish to avoid letting your dog play in areas of long grass, particularly in the late spring and summer. Many parks and playing fields are regularly mown to keep the grass short. This will usually prevent it from producing seed heads. Consider using these types of outdoor spaces if they are accessible to you during the warmer months when grass seeds are prevalent. 

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If avoiding areas of long grass is not practical, ensure your dog is well-groomed and ideally has a shorter coat. This will ensure they are less likely to trap grass seeds. Ask your groomer to pay particular attention to your dog’s feet, ears and under their tummy. Keep the coat short and well trimmed in these areas. 

When you arrive home after a walk, check your dog thoroughly to remove any seeds you see before they have time to start to dig in. Remember to check in between the pads of their feet and around their ears. If you do notice a seed has already become embedded in the skin, it is advisable to take your dog to your vet. The earlier a seed can be removed the better.

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