Grass seeds are a common problem for dogs and dog owners in the summer months. Any dog who runs or plays 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 dog’s eyes, nose or ears.
Grass seeds are the sharp bristles or awns at the top of long grasses. They anchor in your dog’s hair as they brush by or walk over the grass and can work their way into small spaces, like ear canals or between toes. This is intensely irritating and painful for your dog. 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 dog’s coat and paws for grass seeds after summertime walks in long grass to reduce the risks 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 dog’s coat as they dash through long grass or thrust their nose into the undergrowth in search of interesting smells.
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.
As well as causing irritation, grass seeds carry bacteria, leading to infections and abscesses wherever they go.
Common sites for grass seeds include:
- Ear canals: Feathery hair surrounding ears funnels grass seeds into the ear canal.
- Between toes: Close contact with the ground, so an easy space to enter and hard to escape.
- Eyes: Eyelashes, feathery hair and moisture all help to trap seeds
- Nose and Airways: Loose grass seeds enter through the nose when your dog sniffs the grass or through the mouth when they inhale or pant.
Symptoms of grass seeds in dogs
The sharp points and barbs of the grass seeds cause irritation and even pain. And the symptoms come on suddenly, usually during or after a walk.
Specific symptoms depend on where the grass seed has become trapped.
- Head shaking
- Pawing or scratching at the ear, usually on just one side
- Holding head on one side
- Constant licking or chewing 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
Eyes and under eyelids
- Severe eye irritation
- Rubbing and/or pawing at the eye, often frantic
- Eye wholly or partially closed
- Red eye streaming with tears
Nose and airways
- Intense sneezing or reverse sneezing
- Pawing at face or rubbing nose and face on the floor or furniture
- Discharge from just one nostril, can be bloody at first and become yellow to green if not removed for a few days and infection settles in
If left untreated, the ongoing irritation and pain may lead to your dog:
- Becoming very dull and quiet, or being restless and unsettled
- Going off their food
- Losing interest in games or toys
- Licking/chewing paws constantly
- Crying and whimpering
Dogs at higher risk of getting a grass seed
Any dogs who exercise where there is grass can pick up grass seeds. Some dogs will have a greater risk, depending on factors such as:
Environment and lifestyle
- Living near or exercising in fields of long grass
- Dogs who love plunging through undergrowth in search of rabbits or other interesting smells.
Breed and type
- Dogs with feathery hair and/or long floppy ears, which trap seeds between ear flap and ear canal or in feathery feet, such as Spaniels and cockapoos
- Scent hounds with large noses and deep/wide open nostrils: Beagles, dachshunds, basset hounds, bloodhounds, otterhounds, and others who have their noses constantly to the ground
- Long-haired dogs: Lots of hair to trap grass seeds and harder to find them in their coats
- Small- to medium- sized dogs are closer to grasses, especially for eyes and ears
Complications of grass seeds
- Self trauma: Scratching, rubbing, licking or chewing can all cause inflamed, irritated skin and hot spots
- Skin infections caused by self-trauma
- Deep infections and abscesses cause by the bacteria carried under the skin along with the grass seed
Grass seeds 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.
- Coughs and chest infections: Grass seeds which enter through the mouth can lodge in airways and work their way into the lungs
Complications of grass seeds can occur very quickly where an eye is involved. However, seeds which enter the airways or track under skin can take weeks or even months to cause serious problems.
How do vets diagnose grass seed problems in dogs
You and your vet may suspect your dog has a grass seed from the following:
- The symptoms
- Timing: symptoms starting during or soon after a walk
- Finding grass seeds or pieces of them in your dog’s coat
- Red swellings between toes. These are likely to have a small hole (sinus) in the middle and ooze reddish fluid
Additional vet tests
- Ear exam: The vet examines your dog’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. The vet may use delicate grasping tools to check for a seed and ideally to remove it at the same time. This will usually mean an anaesthetic or sedation to keep your dog comfortable.
Advanced testing usually with sedation or an anaesthetic.
- Imaging tests: 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 dogs
Treatment means removing the grass seed as promptly and completely as possible.
Depending on the location of a suspected grass seed, your dog 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 or endoscope.
- 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.
- Nose and airways: Removal of the seed from an airway, nasal chamber or deep ear canal via an endoscope. 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 dogs
It’s not safe or practical to try and remove a grass seed from your dog’s ear or nose at home. Even grass seeds between toes become ‘invisible’ once they get through the skin.
Call a vet as soon as possible if your dog is showing symptoms of the sudden severe irritation caused by grass seeds.
If your dog has a grass seed in their paw, bathing in salt water or epsom salts 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 dog 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 dog from getting grass seeds
Grass seeds can cause your dog 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 dog’s coat after every walk, especially ears and feet
- Trim feathery hair around ears, eyes and feet to reduce the ‘funnelling effect’ that traps and directs grass seeds there.
- Avoid walking in long grass where seed heads are ready to fall.
When to worry
When to worry about grass seeds on your dog
Call a vet if your dog suddenly starts:
- 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
- Sudden onset or prolonged coughing or sneezing
Call a vet immediately if, in addition to the above, your dog:
- 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 of it or if it’s bloody
- Has a severe nosebleed
- Has a worsening cough and is becoming increasingly unwell
Joii can help if:
- Your dog is shaking their head and you’re not sure why
- You have found a grass seed on your dog’s body that you were able to remove
- You are not sure if your dog might have a grass seed