Grass seed can be a real problem for dogs

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The return of summer has brought out combine harvesters in their droves, much to the delight of my two-year-old boy, but there are still plenty of grassy meadows for walking dogs.

And so it was last weekend — a long walk that was intended to be followed by a relaxing sit in the garden.

Meadow grass awns, particularly those of foxtail grass, can be a real issue at this time of year.

Then one of the dogs started shaking his head, just a bit at first, but he got more agitated and the head shaking became quite violent. Having persuaded him to sit still for an examination, the culprit was identified as a grass seed right at the bottom of the poor chap’s ear. My own dog’s was the fourth such case I had seen last week.

Meadow grass awns, particularly those of foxtail grass, can be a real issue at this time of year. Shaped like darts, and often with barbs, they can easily enter a dog’s ear canal and are very tricky to remove. The dog’s ear canal is considerably longer than its human counterpart. After extending downward, it makes a sharp turn inward toward the eardrum. Thus, complete examination requires an otoscope — an instrument with a light, magnifier and special cones to get down the canal and round the corner.

Few dogs tolerate anything being poked into the external ear canal, and dogs with painful ears almost never allow adequate examination and retrieval of ‘foreign bodies’ without sedation.

Grass seeds are also notorious for getting stuck in dogs’ feet, particularly those of furry-footed spaniels and terriers. The seed, attached to the fur, makes its way towards the foot itself, penetrating the skin, burrowing deep into highly sensitive tissues, and resulting in extreme discomfort, infection and lameness.

Grass seeds are invisible on x-ray so their exact location is usually a mystery. Finding them can be challenging and again can require lengthy sedation or anaesthesia.

If left untreated, seeds can migrate, tracking up the paw, the leg, sometimes reaching the chest cavity. There are even recorded cases where a seed has travelled to the heart. The more spectacular cases are rare, but they do highlight the importance of giving your dog a good check-over for bits of debris trapped in their feet and ears.

The seed in my dog’s ear was retrieved, and a sedated dog meant I did get a bit of peace. Until my toddler woke up from his nap.

By Chris Green, Director