Judging by this last week, the annual irritation of grass seeds is upon us once more. This blight to the summer season for dogs (also cats and other species is to a lesser extent), is something that owners wrestle with, trying to figure how best approach to avoid them? Vigilance is unquestionably the best advice, but is such a vague statement!
The main areas affecting dogs are the feet, especially between their toes. If you look front on at your dog, for most breeds the way their hair grows allows for small objects (such as grass awns) to deflect off the hair and be pushed away from the body. Between the pads, though this can often become a tangle of hair growth that entraps any grass seed, and if you’re unlucky, be driven in deeper to the pad. So, it would seem obvious that clipping between the pads would alleviate the problem? Sadly not. What that allows is free access to the skin which might mean that grass awns penetrate this sensitive area too easily whereas before the hair acted as a barrier. Some people swear by keeping the hair intact between the toes and some go for clipping. Whichever you choose, you’ll still need to vigilant. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if dogs would just comb their own hair and groom between their pads? Cats manage it pretty well which is why they seem to suffer less. But just before the cat population gets all smug….again…they do have a few problems with grass seeds around their face. Typical areas that grass seeds affect cats are the eyes, nose and down the ear, with the eyes seeming to take the brunt. And of course, once they start rubbing, damage can arise very quickly. Dogs can similarly get grass seeds lodged around these facial orifices as well – it’s not a cat-exclusive issue.
Would it be obvious that my dog has a grass seed in their paw?
Yes, it hurts, a lot, and the whole area swells up pretty big as well. Quite often a dog will be limping to the extent that they may not even be happy putting foot to ground. If you suspect that there is a grass seed problem it’s very tempting to check the pad for any swelling between the toes. BE CAREFUL. This area is incredibly sensitive. Even the most placid of dogs can get very annoyed at a well-meaning owner getting hold of their throbbing foot. Gentle inspect your dog’s paws. If you spot any of the aforementioned signs and evidence of saliva staining from excessive licking and or nibbling at the site as well, then that’s probably all the information you need to pick up the phone and ring for a vet appointment.
How do you get a grass seed out of my dog’s paw?
First things first, is there one still there? Just because the area between the toes has swollen with a discharge from the site, doesn’t mean that a grass awn is still in situ. Quite often frantic licking and chewing at the area can expel the grass seed. Over the years, experience has taught us that around 80% of dogs presented with grass seeds can be managed without needing to revert to investigation of the pad. However, we don’t know which group each dog falls in to. Where we can, the first approach is to reduce the swelling and deal with any likely infection with medication. If this approach is unsuccessful after a few days, then, the next stage is to explore the area, which means an anaesthetic.
Why do you need to anesthetise my dog to look for a grass seed in the foot?
Quite simply it is so sensitive an area for dogs that undertaking this kind of work under sedation would mean that they would feel it, a lot! Modern anaesthetics are very, very safe for dogs, but it is still something we would all like to avoid. Delaying the investigation though could mean that the grass seed is pushed further and further into the foot making it more and more inaccessible.
What about a grass seed located elsewhere?
When we’re presented with a grass potentially in a pet’s ear/eye/nose then we will attempt to remove these straight away at your appointment. It’s not always possible, depending on how long the grass seed has been present and how willing the pet is to keep still, but we’ll always give it a go. If not successful this way, then we will need to investigate under anaesthetic.
So the watchword is vigilance, and act quickly if you suspect there may be a grass seed problem.