How can I tell if my dog has been affected by grass seeds?
Grass seeds embedded in your dog can be very hard to spot.
“The signs are constantly licking the area of penetration or shaking the head if inside the ear. A visible hole where the seed has entered, swelling and sometimes pus from the affected area, “ says Sophie. “Once inside they can migrate rapidly to other areas. It can affect the whole body with systemic signs such as fever, and general malaise."
- Excessive licking and worrying of the area
- Head shaking if the seed is in the ear
- Swelling and pain at the site
- Discharge, sometimes pus
- A small visible hole where penetration occurred
- And systemic symptoms such as a fever, being lethargic and off food
Problems caused by grass seeds can sometimes be very hard to diagnose.
“I remember seeing a two-year-old spaniel who had spent 18 months of his life with on and off illness which improved with Metacam and antibiotics," says Sophie. "Eventually he went for an CT scan and a seed was found within his lung as an abscess. Once removed he returned to full health.”
What problems can grass seeds cause dogs?
The seeds can get into your dog’s ear canals and cause extreme irritation. Your dog will often show marked head shaking, pawing at the ear and their face, creating hotspots which are areas of sore skin on the side of their face and potentially going off food, feeling lethargic and holding their head to one side.
Even if you were to apply an ear cleaner at this stage, the barbed seeds mean that they’re unlikely to become free and often need removal by your vet.
If you did clean your dog’s ear and the irritation appeared to improve, this could be a sign that the problem was just wax.
"I have witnessed seeds migrate to the lungs of dogs causing abscesses. These dogs have presented with long term waxing and waning illness which has improved with medication then slowly deteriorated. After further investigation, usually a CT scan, the seed has been found," Says Sophie.
"It’s important to know that grass seeds will not show up on a normal x-ray. Sometimes, for grass seeds that are in superficial skin areas, a dye can be used alongside normal x-ray to locate them."
Grass seeds can get into your pet’s eye, although this is rare. You may not be aware of this unless your dog shows signs such as marked irritation, redness and pawing at their face. They can rapidly cause problems, and which potentially can lead to the loss of the eye.
But Sophie's had personal experience of this: "As a veterinary surgeon I faced this exact problem with my own dog Chops. At bedtime, all appeared to be fine. There was no evidence of any issue with his left eye. By the morning he was in severe pain and had gone blind and needed an urgent operation to remove his eye.
"We had no clue what the cause was at this stage as there were several diagnoses on the list. His eye was sent to the lab technician who later confirmed it was a foreign body that had caused the problem; very likely a grass seed. But as they can be so very small, we may never have seen it when the surgical site was flushed out. Thankfully he made a full recovery and is managing just fine.
How can I prevent grass seeds affecting my dog?
There are a few things you can do.
Grass seeds will find it easier to get into your dog’s coat if it's thick and especially if it's matted. Regular brushing is important.
"You should introduce a brush from a young age and use it after your walks to check for seeds. Where appropriate, it may be better to keep the coat shorter in those breeds who appear more prone to picking up grass seeds such as spaniels," says Sophie.
As with most accidents, prevention is better than cure. "For all breeds it's important to check the feet regularly. Feel in-between the toes and closely inspect around and in-between the pads. It’s a good idea to have the hair between and around your dog's paws trimmed and to clip away the hair from in-between the pads. I’d advise taking your dog to a groomer to have this done. Also, you should feel under the armpits, you could consider having this area clipped short too.
“Using a harness with a chest plate may provide extra protection for the busy dogs who are racing through undergrowth and you could even consider boots for repeat offenders.”