The abundant rain during the spring has produced a bumper crop of grass which is now starting to dry off. The seeds from many varieties, such as barley grass and wild oats, cause many problems to dogs and cats exercising where the grass is not regularly mowed.
The most common site of attachment is in the hair between the toes. As the animal moves the seed is propelled forward into the space between the toes, where it can quickly penetrate the skin.
Unless it is removed quickly it soon disappears and produces a painful swelling which eventually discharges a purulent exudate through the small puncture wound in the skin. The dog constantly licks the area and can become lame as the seed penetrates deeper into the tissues and the swelling increases.
Dogs with long, pendulous ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, Afghan Hounds, and Golden Retrievers, are very likely to get grass seeds entering the ear canal. The seed lodges in the hair behind the ears and the swinging motion of the ears guides the seed into the ear canal.
The dog reacts by vigorously shaking its head and holding the affected ear low to the ground. Owners often try to locate the seed by shining a torch into the dog’s ear, but this is usually fruitless as the ear canal is quite long and tortuous, and it requires a special instrument to examine its many folds.
Attempts to float the seed out using olive oil are also doomed to fail as the dart-like construction of the seed and its many backward-pointing hairs make it impossible for the seed to travel in any direction except forwarding and deeper into the ear.
Veterinarians usually have to anesthetize the animal to search for a seed in the animal’s ear. A special long pair of forceps with alligator-like jaws is used to grasp the seed once it is located. The use of such a sharp-pointed instrument within the deep recesses of the ear can be hazardous in the unanesthetized animal.
Seeds commonly become lodged in the dog’s nose. The dog reacts by sneezing violently and shaking its head and often attempts to dislodge the seed by banging its nose on the ground. Bloodstained mucus is discharged from the affected nostril.
It is quite common for seeds to lodge in the eye of a dog or cat as it pushes its way through long grass. The animal minimizes the pain by keeping the eye tightly closed and it is often difficult to see the seed, as it may be hidden by the third eyelid or by the folds on the swollen conjunctiva.
Any suddenly developing painful eye condition should be investigated by a veterinarian, as the longer the seed is in contact with the eye the more damage can be done to the surface of the cornea.
Some less common places where grass seeds can lodge and cause painful abscesses are in the prepuce of the male dog, the vagina of the female dog, and the tissues within the mouth.
Any suddenly developing swelling which quickly becomes abscessed should arouse suspicions of a grass-seed penetration.
In the summer months, it is wise to keep the hair as short as possible between the dog’s toes and its belly and behind the ears. Clipping a long-haired dog completely in the summer makes it much more comfortable in the hot weather.
Avoid exercising the animal in areas where the grass is unmowed and check the dog’s feet, ears, and under the surface after each walk and remove any adherent seeds before they can penetrate the skin.
Consult your veterinarian if the dog or cat suddenly shakes its head vigorously or returns home with one eye tightly closed. Grass-seeds lodged in the ear or eye must cause the animal acute pain.