The Dangers Of Grass Seeds In Dog Fur

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A Golden Retriever stands on its hind legs as its owner stands in front with a ball raised. The dog is happy and engaged in the play session

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It’s always a pleasure to watch your dog tearing around in the fields and meadows, full of the joys of spring, but danger lurks within. Grass seeds are shaped like darts and have multiple sharp little fronds poking out of them. This shape is incredibly efficient at driving the seeds in one direction only. If ever you hold a grass seed and work it through your fingers you’ll see exactly how impossible it is to move it in the ‘wrong’ direction. This is all very well for the grass seed getting planted into soil or undergrowth, but it can be a nightmare for our dogs.

When dogs run through grass, the seeds become very easily lodged into their fur and then, through their pointy design, start edging deeper wherever they are. The two most common places that grass seeds cause issues is in the ears and feet. Dogs with floppy, furry ears, such as spaniels, and dogs with medium or long fur on their legs and feet, are prime candidates for this.

When a grass seed becomes lodged in your dog’s ear canal, it will very quickly start to wriggle its way down. This is incredibly uncomfortable and your dog will usually show very obvious signs of head-shaking and scratching at their ear. If you see this shortly after a walk, always check their ears or get to the vet as soon as you can. If left, the grass seeds will eventually work their way straight through the eardrum and cause a lot of damage.

Grass seeds are so unidirectional that they can even break skin and start migrating deeper into the body. Getting lodged between the toes is a common scenario. The seeds puncture the skin and start to work their way in. You can imagine how uncomfortable this will be for your dog. You’ll notice that they’ll spend a lot of time licking the area the seed is embedded in. Their paw will become swollen, inflamed and often infected, and your dog may start limping.

In many cases, by the time your dog gets to the vet, the seed has penetrated completely and may be tracking a long way in. 

Removing grass seeds from dog fur

Seeds lodged in the ear canal can often be removed by your vet without needing to sedate your dog. We use an otoscope, which is a hollow, magnifying torch that’s used for examining ears, and long forceps to grasp the seed and extract it. Your dog will be super relieved when it pops out! If they have been in the ear for some time, or it’s very painful and inflamed, sedation or anaesthesia may be necessary.

When it comes to penetration into the paws or other areas of the body, then sedation or full anaesthesia is essential, alongside good pain relief. Grass seeds can be very difficult to find if they’ve gone a long way. They can also fragment on their journey and it can become very difficult to be sure that all the pieces are removed. Any vet will tell you that plucking an intact grass seed from deep within a swollen foot or ear is one of the most satisfying things a vet can do!

Never underestimate the dangers of grass seeds

You’ll probably be shocked to know that these, seemingly innocuous, little things have, and do kill dogs. If inhaled they can track through the lungs and cause fatal infections. Once they're in the body they can migrate almost anywhere, given enough time.

If you have a furry dog, think about keeping their fur clipped short during the spring and summer. When you return from walks, always check your dog’s whole body, including lifting the ear flaps to check for grass seeds that may have hitched a ride. This simple habit could save your dog a lot of discomfort and save you time, money and a lot of heartache.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA