When Spring rains fall, all the local farmers and householders benefit. With the new pasture growth however, many different grasses and their seeds emerge. The seeds produced all have a certain shape enabling them to stick into pet's skin or penetrate ears, eyelids and spaces between the toes. The grass seeds have tiny barbs to only allow forward movement. The consequences of this migration can be quite serious.
Last year we had a many cases where we extracted often multiple seeds from ears and ear canals, the nasal cavity, between the eye and eyelids, between the toes and even in gums and between the teeth. We often also remove grass seeds lodged in the centre of an abscess which can be anywhere on the body. A real danger exists of grass seeds traveling through an animals system and into their internal organs after first entering the skin. Seeds that cause the most problems are the barley grass seed (they look like small darts) (see photo below). They have a very sharp point and a long tail. When they come in contact with an animal's skin or other body part, the sharp point easily breaks into the skin and the tail acts like a non-return stop establishing the seed in its new position. If not removed immediately, it may actually start to burrow in and travel through the body.
Signs of Grass Seeds
The signs of a grass seed varies greatly, depending on their location on or in the body. Sometimes what we see is as simple as matted hair or local swelling. However, a seed in the ear canal may cause intense irritation and pain with head shaking, ear scratching and rubbing on the floor, or a head tilt. In the eye, closed eyelids and heavy tear production, or constant pawing at the affected eye can be seen. Sneezing and nasal discharge will result from some intranasal grass seeds. Lameness from foot infections are common when they penetrate the toes. Excessive licking accompanies attachment to the gums, tongue and mouth. Pets with seeds in the back of the throat may cough, retch, or gag, and have difficulty eating and swallowing.
Sometimes pets can remove superficial seeds themselves by grooming. However, if the seeds are swallowed they can stick to the back of the throat near the tonsils and cause inflammation and swelling. Others can migrate through the wall of the oesophagus, then through the lungs or abdomen causing widespread damage and infection.
Most seeds in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth and those penetrating deeper into skin of the feet usually need an examination and some level of anaesthesia. Sometimes, local anaesthetic eye drops is sufficient to remove intra-ocular seeds. However, for safer removal from deep inside the ear canal or removal from under the skin, most patients need sedation. For example, a damaged ear drum can result if the head moves at the wrong time. A full general anaesthetic is occasionally required where intranasal seeds are removed (as in the case for maltese "Puppy" Brown below). Some grass seeds can't be found on the first attempt, and repeated anaesthetics may be required.
Pets which spend most of their time outside, especially working dogs, are most at risk. If possible, prevent your pet from running through areas of tall grass or when the plants have gone to seed. Protective boots and vests for feet and body cover or "Doggles" for eye protection are available. Small balls of cotton wool into each ear can help, as they act like ear plugs.
Close cropping the coats of outdoor-loving, longhaired pets, is a great help. Short clipping of the area around the toes helps make inspection easier.
How easy is it for grass seeds to stick into your socks after a walk? Your dog is likely to have seeds in their coats and paws, so examine these regularly. Check closely between the toes, in the ears, and in the coat around the "armpits" and groin areas. If you find a seed, try removing it with a pair of tweezers. If you cannot remove it easily, or you notice a lump of an old seed already imbedded, please contact us immediately, as this could require surgery.
Stop your pet from chewing on grasses that have seed heads. If you think your pet may have eaten seedy grass and is having problems such as coughing, sneezing or gagging, again, contact us as soon as possible on 02 6884 9900