By Dr Mark Lewis BVSc
In the spring and summer months we often have dogs presented to us with problems caused by grass seeds. Just one of these simple and apparently harmless seeds can in fact cause severe health problems and in the country our pets come into contact with millions of them each spring and summer!
The shape of grass seeds means that they move forwards and a grass seed left embedded in the coat will quite quickly penetrate through the skin. Once the grass seed has pushed through the skin it will track its’ way along through the body causing infection and tissue trauma. After playing in the grass dogs will often have grass seeds lodged in their coats, the most common place for grass seeds to lodge is between the toes on the paws but they can also lodge in other areas.
It is very important to check your dog all over, with special attention to the area between the toes after he or she has been walking through long grass. If a grass seed enters the paw it will then move up the leg causing swelling and lameness. The other common place for grass seeds to cause problems is in the ear shown in the photograph on the left.
If a seed lodges in the hair near the ear canal it will move down the actual ear canal until it reaches the eardrum. If the grass seed is left in the ear too long it will then rupture the eardrum and enter the middle ear. At this stage there is often irreversible damage. When a grass seed first enters the ear it causes extreme pain and the dog will scream if the ear is touched. Within a few days though this pain will be less obvious and the main sign will be discomfort, shaking the head and in some cases a head tilt. It is very important that if a dog is scratching it’s ears or shaking its head you should have it checked by a vet in case there is a grass seed in the ear. In some cases we have removed up to 4 seeds from each ear.
Grass seeds can also enter the other orifices of a dog and it is not uncommon to find them embedded up a dog’s nose, underneath the eyelids or in the vulva. In the most extreme cases grass seeds can move all the way up to the spine where they sit against the bones of the vertebrae and cause degeneration of the spine or discs. In these cases the first presenting sign is often an unstable gait in the hind legs.
Grass seed lesions can occur in cats but this is less common probably because cats are more reserved when playing and very fastidious groomers.
Treatment of grass seed problems is easier and cheaper if it is done early. For example: seeds can be removed from the top of ear canal, often without an anaesthetic, and with minimal follow up medication. On the other hand if the eardrum is perforated the dog will need a general anaesthetic and extensive antibiotic treatment. This general principle applies no matter where the seed is.
As with most things in veterinary medicine, prevention is better than cure. To prevent major problems check your dog’s ears and paws daily and then run your hands over your dog’s body looking for grass seeds.
Also if you have a longhaired dog consider clipping the coat short for spring and summer. If you do not want to clip the entire dog clipping the hair around the ears and clipping the feet short will help prevent the most common grass seed problems. Talk to our grooming staff at Pet Spa on Raglan about an appropriate spring or summer clip for your dog.
If you have any questions regarding grass seeds, don’t hesitate to speak to one of our vets.