Grass seed dangers to cats and dogs
During the summer season, grass seeds are in abundance and can cause all sorts of problems to dogs and cats.
Surprisingly, grass seeds are responsible for a large number of emergency veterinary admissions.
Grass seeds get stuck in our pet's fur, and the structure means they can only move one way. So, once they stick into the hair, they move forward and the sharp pointy end can then penetrate the skin.
The grass seed can cause a wound in the skin where the grass seed enters, and it can travel under the skin or sit just under it.
The body will either try to expel this, and small lumps may appear around the area and can also appear as pus-filled spots.
Usually, you will find lumps in-between toes or pads on dogs from where they walk and grass seeds get caught in the hair. However, they can be anywhere on the body!
During a free consult, our lead vet nurse, Fiona has even seen a dog with numerous open lumps all over one side of the body, where the grass seed was travelling and trying to break out!
Grass seeds can also get stuck in the eyes or down the ears causing intense irritation. This would usually require hospitalisation in the vet practice for sedation or general anaesthetic to be removed.
If your pet is rubbing their eye, shaking their head excessively sneezing frequently or licking paws or a certain area, it’s best to get them checked ASAP at your local vets.
What do grass seeds look like?
Grass seeds come in a variety of shapes and they are super small (usually 1-2cm in length). They are spikey and dart-shaped which is why, once it penetrates through the outer skin barrier, it travels further in due to gravity.
Some grass seeds resemble tiny arrowheads or fish hooks, and the sharp tip end is what allows them to very easily break through the skin and burrow into the body.
How can I avoid grass seeds?
Prevention is better than cure. That’s why it’s good practice to regularly check the hair of your pet. Especially if you have walked through tall grass areas with your dog or your cat is prone to taking adventures.
Have a look between the toes and feet, groin area and armpit, around the ears, and then generally through the whole coat.
All pets can be affected by grass seeds, but breeds with longer coats are more at risk. Particularly those with fluffy, feathery toes and ears, such as springer spaniels.
Daily grooming can help remove any grass seeds in the coat. Brush your pet's coat as soon as you come back from a walk and trim the coat regularly so there’s less surface area for the seeds to attach to.
Whilst it’s not always possible to avoid grass seeds and prevent the disastrous effects, it’s wise to avoid walking in grassy areas until the grass seeds have passed.
You can protect your pet even further by regularly mowing your garden and keeping the grass short. Sweep away any remaining plant cuttings to remove offending seeds and keep your garden tidy to reduce risk.
What are the symptoms?
Pets experience different symptoms depending on what part of the body is affected.
Common signs of grass seeds affecting your pet include:
- shaking its head
- licking its paws
- looking uncomfortable
- being lethargic
- seemingly in pain
You should also keep an eye out for any swelling, hair matting and irritation or discharge from the eyes or nose.
If pets chew an area of skin where seeds have become attached, grass seeds may become lodged in the mouth. If this happens, they will display discomfort, or you may notice excessive licking.
If your cat or dog shows any of these signs, it’s best to contact your vet as soon as possible.
Any lumps between toes or pus can indicate infection with the grass seed. This would require sedation or general anaesthetic at your local vets for investigation.
Grass seeds in-between paws can be extremely hard to locate and remove as they can tract quite far up.
Treatment for grass seed wounds?
If you suspect your pet has a grass seed wound, it’s important to get it removed as soon as possible. If left untreated, the seed can cause a lot of pain and irritation.
Especially, if the seed has migrated through the body or lodged itself in your dog's lungs or other vital organs. Both scenarios can cause serious infections and may even cause death (although this is very rare).
However, removal is not always straightforward, and you should seek professional treatment. Never attempt to remove the seed yourself at home.
Vets will perform a full physical examination to confirm the diagnosis before removing the offending seed. If it’s close to the surface of the skin and easily accessible, your vet will use a pair of specially-designed tweezers to do this.
If your vet suspects a grass seed is lodged too deeply, pus or blood is seeping out of a wound or it is in a particularly sensitive area, sedation may be required.
If a grass seed cannot be found but your vet believes it may be the source of pain or infection, your pet may need to undergo surgery.
Fiona's Final Note
There are many ways you can prevent pesky grass seed punctures, but the simplest solution is to avoid long grass in the warmer months.
Keep your garden trimmed, and always give your pets a thorough once over after every walk. You can do this by running your fingers through their fur, checking in between the toes, inside the ears and in the mouth and eyes.
Make sure your pet is well-groomed, especially around the ears and feet. If you are concerned your pet may be more susceptible to grass seeds, you can always opt for extra protection.
There are plenty of accessories including vests that cover the chest and abdomen that serve as a barrier on walks.
You can also use doggy boots whilst out and about, as they provide protection and offer a wide range of other benefits.
If you see a grass seed in your pet's coat or on the surface of the skin, remove it straight away. But if you spot a seed that has already begun to burrow into the skin, you should see a vet immediately.
If you need further advice or guidance on what to look out for, or if you see a lump and suspect a grass seed is the cause, book a free nurse consult now. Our qualified vet nurses can help you determine if you should see your vet or if it’s nothing to worry about!