Grass seeds are a common problem for cats and cat owners in the summer months. Any cat who goes outdoors to hunt or explore in long grass will pick up grass seeds in their coat. These seeds can cause painful problems when they work their way under the skin or into your cat’s eyes, nose or throat.
Grass seeds are the sharp bristles or awns at the top of long grasses. They anchor in your cat’s hair as they brush by or walk over the grass and can work their way under the skin or eyelids. Sometimes grass seeds lodge in the throat or airways. This is intensely irritating and painful for your cat. Serious complications can develop if undetected seeds continue to work their way from their entry point to deeper parts of the body, including the lungs and eyes. Always check your cat’s coat and paws for grass seeds when they’ve been outdoors in summertime. Prompt removal reduces the risk of problems later on.
What are grass seeds?
Grass seeds are the sharp bristles at the end of long grasses. In late spring and early summer, mature grass seeds harden and start to fall off.
Grass seeds are shaped a bit like arrows or fishing hooks, with pointy tips at one end and ‘ears’ or barbs at the other. So they’re a perfect shape to catch in your cat’s coat as they prowl through long grass or pounce on butterflies.
Once stuck in the fur, grass seeds will only move deeper. They’ll work their way into narrow spaces, like the ear canals, between the toes or even under eyelids. They can also penetrate through the skin and continue to track deeper into the tissues and to other parts of the body. Your cat may accidentally inhale a grass seed into their throat or airways when they are outside or even when grooming themselves.
As well as causing irritation, grass seeds carry bacteria with them wherever they travel to, leading to infections and abscesses wherever they go.
Common sites for grass seeds include:
- Between toes: Close contact with the ground, so an easy space to enter and hard to escape.
- Eyes: Eyelashes and moisture all help to trap seeds under eyelids
- Throat, nose and airways: Loose grass seeds enter through your cat’s mouth or nose
- Ears: Fine feather hair around the ears traps and funnels seeds
Symptoms of grass seeds
The sharp points and barbs of the grass seeds cause irritation and even pain. And the symptoms come on suddenly.
Specific symptoms depend on where the grass seed has become trapped.
Mouth, throat and upper airways
- Gagging or retching
- Drooling saliva
- Intense sneezing
- Pawing at face or rubbing face on floor or furniture
- Discharge that can be bloody to start with then turn yellow or green after a few days, normally just from one nostril
Eyes or under eyelids
- Severe eye irritation
- Rubbing and/or pawing at the eye, often frantic
- Eye wholly or partially closed
- Red eye streaming with tears
- Head shaking
- Pawing or scratching at the ear, usually on just one side
- Holding head on one side
- Constant licking of the affected area
- Swelling or lump if the grass seed has already travelled into the skin
- Hoozing discharge that may be liquid with blood or pus from the affected area
If left untreated, the ongoing irritation and pain may lead to your cat:
- Becoming very dull and quiet, or being restless and unsettled
- Going off their food
- Losing interest in games or toys
- Licking/chewing paws constantly
- Having breathing difficulties
Cats at higher risk of getting grass seeds
Any cats who go outside can pick up grass seeds. Some cats will have a greater risk, depending on factors such as:
Environment and lifestyle
- Cats living near fields of long grass
- Access to outdoors
Breed and type:
- Long-haired cats: Lots of hair to trap grass seeds and harder to find them in their coats
Complications of grass seeds
- Self trauma caused by scratching, rubbing, licking or chewing can lead to inflamed, irritated skin
- From self-trauma
- From bacteria carried under the skin along with the grass seed
Grass seeds are a painful irritant for cats. But they can cause more severe problems if they work their way into deeper tissues or organs.
- Recurrent lameness, abscesses, fevers or sepsis: The trapped grass seed becomes a foreign body. It causes ongoing or recurrent irritation, inflammation, swelling and infections.
- Eye damage and even blindness: Where a grass seed trapped under an eyelid enters the eye itself.
- Breathing difficulties, coughs and chest infections: Grass seeds which enter through the mouth can lodge in airways and fragments may work their way into the lungs.
Complications of grass seeds can occur very quickly where eyes, throat or ears are involved. However, seeds which track under skin can take weeks or even months to cause serious problems
How vets diagnose grass seeds in cats
You and your vet may suspect your cat has a grass seed from the following:
- The symptoms
- Finding grass seeds or pieces of them in your cat’s coat
- Swellings in the skin between toes or pads. Likely to be red and inflamed and have a small hole (sinus) in the middle oozing reddish fluid.
Additional vet tests:
- Ear exam: The vet examines your cat’s ear canal using an instrument called an otoscope, which has a light and magnifying lens
- Exploring lumps between toes where there is a small hole and discharge, but nothing visible from the outside.
Advanced testing: usually done with sedation or an anaesthetic.
- Examining mouth and throat
- X-rays and ultrasound
- Endoscopy: using a tiny camera to look for grass seeds hidden inside the nose or airways.
Vet treatment for grass seeds in cats
Treatment means removing the grass seed as promptly and completely as possible.
Preparation: Depending on the location of a suspected grass seed, your cat will usually have one of the following:
- Sedation and pain relief to keep them relaxed and comfortable.
- Full or ‘general’ anaesthetic so they sleep through the whole procedure.
Exploration and Removal
- Ears: Removal of the seed from the ear canal with fine forceps via an otoscope.
- Feet: A small surgical procedure to open up a swelling in order to find and remove the seed. Sometimes your vet will put a poultice on the paw for 24 hours before the procedure to help ‘draw’ the swelling. This reduces fluid and can make the seed easier to find.
- Mouth and throat: Removal of visible grass seeds with fine forceps.
- Nose, airways and ears: An endoscope is used to remove seeds from an airway, nasal chamber or deep ear canal. The camera and magnification make the seed easier to see and grasp with tiny ‘claws’ which pass safely through the endoscope.
Additional treatments may include:
- Having a dressing and bandages applied to a foot
- Getting an anti-inflammatory injection to ease discomfort and reduce any swelling
- Antibiotic treatment for bacterial infections resulting from a penetrating grass seed
Home treatment for grass seeds in cats
It’s not safe or practical to try and remove a grass seed lodged in your cat’s throat or ear canal at home. Even grass seeds between toes become ‘invisible’ once they get through the skin.
Call a vet as soon as possible if your cat is showing symptoms of the sudden severe irritation caused by grass seeds.
If your cat has a grass seed in their paw, bathing in salt water will help to clean the wound and may also help to draw the seed out.
Home care after a vet procedure to remove grass seeds:
- Keep any bandages your pet comes home with from the vet dry and clean
- Give any medication as prescribed by your vet at the correct dose and time
- Keep to follow-up appointments
How to prevent your cat from getting grass seeds
Grass seeds can cause your cat serious pain and discomfort. And grass seed removal may cost from hundreds to thousands of pounds, depending on where they lodge and how hard they are to find. So it’s best to take every possible precaution to reduce the risk.
- Check your cat’s coat regularly for grass seeds
- Trim fine feathery hair around ears, eyes and feet of long-haired cats to reduce the ‘funnelling effect’ that traps and directs grass seeds there.
- Keep your cat indoors when grass is overgrown.
Most cats like to eat real fresh grass from time to time. There are safe grasses for cats which you can easily grow at home to reduce risk of grass seed injuries.
When to worry
When to worry about grass seed problems in your cat
Call a vet if your cat suddenly starts:
- Gagging, coughing or retching
- Frantically shaking their head, scratching and rubbing at one ear, though sometimes grass seeds get in both
- Pawing and rubbing at an eye or holding it closed
- Intense licking, chewing and lameness of one (or more) feet
Call a vet immediately if, in addition to the above, your cat:
- Develops difficulty breathing or collapses
- Has a worsening cough and seems increasingly unwell
- Develops a head tilt and problems with their balance
- Has a red, painful or swollen eye or seems unable to see out of it
- Has discharge from the eye, especially if there’s a lot or if it’s bloody discharge
Joii can help if:
- Your cat is shaking their head and you’re not sure why
- You have found a grass seed on their body that you were able to remove
- You are not sure if your cat might have a grass seed