The lurker on the lawn – how can a grass seed cause trouble?
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The lurker on the lawn – how can a grass seed cause trouble?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Most articles about problems with lawns are concerned with slugs and snails as these can cause serious health problems with lungworm (it can be fatal). Articles can also mention picking up dog faeces, as leaving them can lead to other health issues for the next dog (or human!)

This Pets4Homes article, however, deals with another lawn-based problem for pets, predominately dogs, the humble grass seed. It’s not just limited to your garden, but anywhere there is grass - read on to find out more.

Why are grass seeds such an issue?

These seeds pose a real problem for your pet, simply because of their shape! Once they are caught in skin or fur, their arrow-like shape means they can get completely stuck and not fall out again. It also means that if they are going to move, through your dog running about etc. They would only go in one direction, that is further in.

You may be thinking of the really big fluffy grass seeds, and although these can cause a problem especially in bigger dogs, it’s the smaller seeds that tend to be found more. Because the season of spring is the most predominant time the seeds are active and about, vets tend to see this problem more at that time of year – but it is worth remembering other plant seeds can also cause a bit of a headache!

So how can a grass seed affect my dog?

As we’ve said these are like little darts and can find their ways easily into your dog’s fur when they walk over the grass or brush against longer strands. Dogs with very fluffy feet – especially between the toes are more at risk of getting one caught without the owner realising. This means the seed may poke into the skin and when the dog is running about, be pushed completely inside. To a lesser extent, this can also happen on other parts of the body, such as the dog's abdominal area and flanks.

One other place grass seed like to attach themselves to are the dog’s ears – especially if they have long ears that are fluffy such as a Cocker Spaniel. When sniffing the ground, spaniel’s ears often drag on the floor, acting like miniature vacuums picking up all sorts of debris! Again, the grass seeds can find their way into the dog’s ears and calls all sorts of trouble. Above we mentioned sniffing – and yes this is another place grass seed can find themselves, up your dog's nose!

How is the grass seed problem diagnosed by the vet?

In the case of your dog getting a grass seed between their toes (and it can be any foot), you may notice your dog starts to suddenly limp or become fully lame. You may not know the apparent reason as if the seed has entered the skin fully, you may not even see where it is. Your dog will certainly be able to feel it though, and may lick at the area excessively, as well as limp.

If there is a grass seed in the ear, your dog may shake their head vigorously (more than normal), they may also paw at their ears. As the seeds are like darts and can be painful, they may even be vocal and cry loudly. Occasionally seeds can set up a secondary infection in the ear, and you may notice a horrible yeasty smell from your dog's ears.

If the seed is caught up the nose, the dog tends to sneeze excessively to try and clear the blockage and irritation. However, because of the shape, this will be highly unlikely, and the seed will probably stay firmly in the nostril. Sometimes there is bleeding from the nose, and you may see your dog paw at it as well.

How are grass seed problems in dogs treated?

Again, this depends on where the seed is causing the issue. In the case of seed between the toes, the dog is put under anaesthetic for it to be removed. The dog has its feet area clipped completely, especially between the toes to find the entry site of the seed. Sometimes seeds can track up the leg quite rapidly, so removing one surgically can be a challenge. Vets will apply a timed tourniquet on the leg to give them better visualisation when looking for a grass seed, instead of lots of blood obscuring the view. An incision is made where an entry wound may be found and the grass seed is searched for. If they are lucky, they will find the offending seed fairly quickly without too much searching.

In an ear it is much easier, as with the use of an otoscope they can be located fairly quickly and removed with a long set of forceps. In many cases, this is done under sedation only.

According to the size of the dog – and the size of their nose, foreign bodies inside the nostrils may also be removed like the ear grass seeds. However, if the animal is smaller and forceps are too large, your vet may refer you to a specialist to have the seed removed.

In all cases your dog will have a course of antibiotics to help combat any infection, this is because the grass seed, of course, is a foreign body and very prone to setting up an infection.

How can I prevent the grass seed problem?

It is really a case of watching your dogs carefully, especially during grass seed season. After a walk, check their paws completely for any seeds that may be caught in the fur, check their ears to see if there are any caught especially on the underside of the ear flap. Any that are caught in the nostril at this early stage is likely to be seen so they can be carefully removed.

It is a really good idea if you have a very furry dog to give them a brush after a walk – especially in the springtime. This helps remove any offending items and has the added benefit of helping you bond with your pet even more!

Grass seeds can cause a problem for your pets, but with careful checking, especially after walks, you can help to reduce the risk of them being invaded by this garden greenery! If you have any worries your dog may have picked up a foreign body or is showing any of the above signs, please consult your vet.

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