Grass awns or grass seeds don’t sound terribly hazardous to your pet’s health. But these small arrow shaped seeds can result in penetrating trauma and abscess formation when stuck in the skin. During the summer and fall months, certain types of grasses produce seeds with barbs that behave similar to a fishhook, they attach easily to the hair coat and are difficult to remove.
Once attached, these pesky little seeds hitch a ride, presumably to find a new place to grow. However, the barbs prevent backward movement particularly in dogs with curly or dense coats and the seeds move continuously forward until they penetrate the skin, resulting in an abscess or an infected wound under the skin. Though they most commonly affect the feet in between the toes, grass awns can attach and migrate anywhere in the body. Occasionally they will also get in a pet’s ear canal or behind one of their eyelids.
Signs of grass seed injury when the feet are affected include sudden onset of pain, limping, excess licking of a paw, or a red swelling typically found in between the toes. These wounds can be painful and difficult to heal without medical intervention; a short surgical procedure to open and flush the wound is required to remove the foreign grass seed material and allow for proper healing. Most patients will require sedation or anesthesia in order to accomplish this.
With proper treatment, pain medications, antibiotics and the dreaded cone-of-shame most dogs will heal without complication. Occasionally, a second procedure may be required.
Protecting Your Pet
A few simple steps can help to protect Fido from this type of injury. First, if your dog has a curly or thick coat, consider having your groomer “poodle cut” the hair on the feet to help prevent the seeds from attaching. For all dogs, the best protection is regular checking in between the toes after walks to remove any seeds before they are able to penetrate the skin. If you suspect your dog has a grass awn injury, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Do not place a bandage over the site as this can result in further injury. Instead, if Fido is licking the affected paw, you can use an Elizabethan collar to prevent further self-trauma until your pet is able to be seen.
By An Associate Veterinarian