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Grass Seeds and Dogs: The Dangers, Removal, and Prevention

Whilst seemingly innocent and quite pleasant to look at, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of grass seeds to dogs. A tiny grass seed in your dog’s paw, ear, or eye can wreak all sorts of havoc for them (and you), so it’s crucial to practice prevention wherever possible. 

 

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Grass Seeds and Dogs: The Dangers, Removal, and Prevention

Summertime is great fun for dogs and their humans: the warmer weather provides more opportunities for outdoor fun and games, children are home from school, and the long days allow for lengthy walks in nature. However, with all the summer fun, there are also increased risks for dogs; specifically in the form of grass seeds. 

Leveraging years of expertise in holistic dog care, Alison Frost, ProDog’s canine nutritionist, offers insights into the specific dangers of grass seeds, how they impact dogs’ health, and what you can do to keep them at bay during adventures with your canine friends.  

 

What are grass seeds?

Grass seeds are the small, sharp seeds that reside at the ends of long grass. They’re especially abundant in the summer months, as this is their time to release from the stem and pollinate surrounding areas. 

Their small size makes them almost unnoticeable, which is a big part of grass seed danger; they can easily attach to dogs’ fur undetected when brushed against, stepped on, or rolled in.

Grass seeds are typically found in woodland areas that contain long grass, including fields, meadows, and other natural settings.

Common types of grass seed in the UK

Though many types of grass seed can be found in the UK, the most common ones known to cause problems for dogs are Wall Barley [1] and Barren Brome [2]. These particular species are especially harmful due to their innate ability to attach and stick to dogs’ fur; their pointy, barbed structures latch on and begin migrating inward, which makes them more difficult to remove. Their abundant presence across the UK also makes it more likely that dogs will come into contact with them at some point.

 

Wall Barley is a common grass seed found in the UK, and can easily attach to dogs’ fur.

Dangers of grass seeds on dogs

Grass seeds’ pointy, hook-like structures are designed to attach and migrate inward, making it easy for them to puncture dogs’ skin and travel throughout their bodies. They can more easily gain access through noses, ears, eyes, and paws, but can cause problems on any part of a dog’s body if left too long. These are the most common risks grass seeds pose to dogs:

Potential health risks and complications

The potential for grass seeds to cause health issues increases with the amount of time they’re left undetected on dogs’ bodies. Their migrational abilities mean they can travel quite some distance under the skin, leaving dogs vulnerable to abscesses, infections, and severe discomfort. 

Also, their structure is designed in such a way that they tend to break apart when being pulled out, making it more difficult to remove them completely. The pain and irritation of grass seeds stuck in their skin causes dogs to excessively lick, bite, and scratch at the site of the wound, further increasing their risk of infection. 

Common symptoms and signs of grass seed-related issues

Depending where your dog has a grass seed on their body, some common signs may be present. Here’s a quick break down of how dogs might respond to grass seeds stuck in their various body parts:

Eyes

Pawing at face

One eye closed (fully or partially)

Excessive tear production or eye discharge

Redness 

Swelling

 

Ears

Excessive head shaking

Tilting head to one side 

Pawing/scratching ear area

Rubbing ears/head on ground or other surfaces

Redness inside ear

 

Nose

Uncontrollable sneezing, especially at first

Pawing at muzzle

Rubbing muzzle on ground

Reverse sneezing (sounds like choking/wheezing)

 

Paws

Holding one paw off the ground/limping

Swollen/red between toes and/or on paw pads

Licking/biting/chewing affected paw/s

Pulling affected paw away when touched 

Possible long term consequences if left untreated

Sadly, due to their small size and ability to penetrate skin so quickly, many grass seed injuries go undetected until further damage is done. Their tendency to migrate can lead them anywhere on a dog’s body, including into the lungs and digestive tract if not caught in time. Aside from the above-mentioned infections and abscesses, complications can include temporary lameness, respiratory distress, intestinal damage, and widespread inflammation [3]. 

Understanding how dogs pick up grass seeds

To better help your dog avoid the discomfort of embedded grass seeds, it’s a good idea to know how they can be vulnerable. Here are a few ways dogs come into contact with grass seeds:

Routes of entry: paws, ears, nose, and eyes

Dogs are susceptible to grass seed attachment through various parts of their bodies, with some being more vulnerable than others. Grass seeds in dogs’ ears, eyes, nose, and paws are the most common, and you can likely guess why: sniffing and walking (or more commonly, bounding) through long grass make these areas easy targets. Unfortunately, these body parts can also be the hardest to access when trying to remove foreign objects, which is why prevention is key.

Environmental factors that contribute to grass seed attachment

The environment plays a role in grass seed attachment, too, as grass is obviously a big part of nature. Taking your dog out during the summer months, when grass seeds are in their pollination cycle, is the most common time for them to attach to your dog; frequently resulting in a grass seed in your dog’s paw or other parts of the body. Also, some areas of the country have higher populations of the more problematic grass seeds, so location has a part to play as well.

Dogs’ behaviour and activities that increase the risk of grass seed attachment

Dogs love to run and jump in the long grass, and who can blame them? It’s part of their playful nature and they have a great time doing it. However, these activities also increase their risk of grass seed attachment. Other behaviours include sniffing, rolling, and hiding in the long grass. Even walking in grassy areas can make them vulnerable; grass seeds are just so good at finding their way around!

 

How grass seeds attach to dogs

Prevention strategies

Whilst it’s not possible to completely avoid grass seeds all the time, there are some strategies that can help to minimise their impact. Try these next time you head out to areas where grass seeds are commonly found:

Grooming practices

Brushing and combing techniques

Regular brushing and combing helps to loosen any grass seeds that may be stuck in dogs’ fur. This also removes any loose hair, making it less likely for grass seeds to become attached. To keep grass seed attachment to a minimum, simply give your dog a good once over after they come in from outside. An added benefit of this is that grass seeds and ticks share the same season, so regular brushing and combing helps to identify/remove any potential ticks as well.



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Trimming long hair and fur

Similar to regular brushing, keeping long coats trimmed during summer months does more than help dogs stay cool; it also decreases their chances of grass seed attachment. Shorter fur makes grass seeds easier to spot and provides less opportunities for them to cling on, thus minimising dogs’ risk of attachment and the consequences that may follow.

 

*Please note, not all dog breeds benefit from being clipped, for example double coated breeds rely on their fur to keep them cool and protect their skin from the sun, so always seek advice from a professional groomer when considering new grooming methods.

Creating a grass seed-free environment 

Maintaining your yard

Keeping your garden maintained can be a huge help in preventing your dog’s exposure to grass seeds. As they’re found at the tops of long grass, keeping lawns short and weeds to a minimum goes a long way in keeping grass seeds at bay. Ensuring the grass in your yard belongs to species other than the common irritants mentioned earlier will also help.

Reducing exposure to common grass seed areas 

Whilst our dogs love to run, jump, and sniff in long grass, these activities often encourage grass seed attachment. Minimising dogs’ exposure to areas of long grass, especially during the summer months, reduces their risk of coming into contact with the sharp, sticky grass seeds that are commonly found there.



Avoiding long grass helps minimise dogs’ exposure to grass seeds.

Removing grass seeds from dogs

Grass seed removal is easiest (and least risky) when done before the point punctures the skin. This is why brushing and/or combing immediately after walks is the best course of action. However, brushing may not always catch all grass seeds on your dog. Here’s how to safely remove them from the most commonly affected areas: 

How to safely remove grass seeds from different body parts

Paws 

If possible, find the pointed end of the grass seed in your dog’s paw. Pushing it through your dog’s fur will minimise breakage and allow you to remove it completely. If stuck between the toes, try to manipulate the direction to move it away from your dog’s skin. Tweezers can be helpful, but be careful not to pinch your dog!

Ears

Very carefully use tweezers to pluck the grass seed from your dog’s ear. As above, pulling from the pointed end works best when possible. If the grass seed has entered the ear canal or breaks off in your dog’s ear, contact your vet.

Nose 

If on the outside of your dog’s nose, gently pull the grass seed out, being careful not to break it apart. For grass seeds inside the nose, removal should be done by your vet.

Eyes

If around the outside of the eye, shield/gently close your dog’s eyes and carefully pluck the grass seed out. Grass seed attachment inside the eye warrants immediate veterinary attention.  



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Importance of seeking veterinary assistance for deep-seated grass seeds

Deep-seated grass seeds need to be removed by a vet for a few reasons. Firstly, depending on where they are, minor surgery may be required. This should only ever be done by a professional in a sterile environment. Also, removing the grass seeds effectively and in a timely manner reduces the risk of infections, abscesses, and further migration to other parts of the body.

If you’re at all concerned about removing a grass seed in any situation, contact your vet for guidance. Grass seed removal costs vary by vet, difficulty, and other factors; another great reason to practise prevention!

There may very well come a time when you miss a grass seed or two, and your dog contracts an injury or infection. Knowing the warning signs and what to do next will help you to be prepared:

Recognising signs of infection or injury

As dogs are masters at hiding their pain, it’s important to be aware of the subtle signs that they’re injured. Licking or biting the affected area, not allowing you to touch them where it hurts, being less interested in food, and withdrawing from their usual activities can all signal pain in dogs. 

Signs of infection can be similar to those that indicate pain. However, infections generally have more noticeable symptoms, such as redness, swelling, or a putrid smell. Dogs will often obsessively lick infected areas in an attempt to clean them as well.   

Immediate first aid measures

If your dog’s skin has been punctured by a grass seed, there are some first aid measures you can take to prevent infection. Once the grass seed has been removed completely, clean the wound with a canine-safe antiseptic such as Leucillin. Keep the area clean and dry for a few days, and prevent your dog from licking or biting it (use an inflatable collar if necessary). This will allow the wound to heal and prevent infection from occurring. 

When to consult a veterinarian

There are certain situations where veterinary assistance is necessary when it comes to removing grass seeds. Grass seeds inside dogs’ ears, up their nose, or in the eyes should be handled by your vet. Any grass seeds embedded between the toes that cannot be removed completely should be also seen by a vet, as should any obsessive licking, biting, or chewing after being exposed to grass seeds.

Involving your vet lowers the risk of various further complications that grass seeds can cause for your dog [4].

Enjoying summer with your dog, grass seed-free

Whilst they may seem innocent enough on the surface, grass seeds can create a world of pain for your dog. Their natural design allows them to easily attach to dogs’ bodies and can turn a summer walk into a miserable experience; but a little awareness can stop them from spoiling your dog’s fun. 

The tips and information outlined in this article will help you to practise prevention and preparation, making summer more enjoyable for your dog (and for you). Utilising techniques such as protective clothing and footwear, regular grooming practices, and reducing dogs’ exposure to grass seeds at home and outdoors will spare your canine friend the pain and irritation they can cause.



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References

References:

  1. The Wildlife Trusts. Wall Barley. Accessed July 2023.

 https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/grasses-sedges-and-rushes/wall-barley

  1. Nature Spot. Barren Brome. Accessed July 2023.

https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/barren-brome

  1. Brant, B., Singleton, D., Noble, P., Radford, A. Dec 2021. Seasonality and risk factors for grass seed foreign bodies in dogs. Preventive Veterinary Medicine;, 197:105499. Doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2021.105499
  2. Camarasa, J., Travetti, O., Vallefuoco, R. Dec 2020. Arthroscopic Removal of an Intra-Articular Migrating Plant Awn with Septic Shoulder Joint Arthritis in a Dog. VCOT Open;, 3(2):e177-e181. Doi: 10.1055/s-0040-1721661 

Image credit: Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay

Image credit: Goran Horvat from Pixabay

Image credit: Will Eames from Pixabay




2 comments

Mr.S.A.R.Bell

These seeds are also a problem in winter as they dry out and get harder !
Therefore penetrating the skin quicker,this we have found through experience
by having to remove them. The dogs have had to have mouths tied up to prevent
biting us while in great pain.
The seed does not go away and is therefore present at the pavements edge waiting
for the dog to pick them up. This being made worse by Coucils not cutting grass as often
as they used to do or should !!!

ProDog

Yes indeed. Many seeds cause an issue, this time of year especially

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