The words ‘grass seed’ might not strike fear into most pet parents. But for the few that have experienced one ‘wandering’ inside their dog or cat, you know it’s pretty frightening.
So I thought I’d take you into the weird world of grass seeds.
You see them on just about every walk every day of the year. But through a bizarre series of events, that grass seed on that long stalk of grass can sometimes end up actually inside the body of your furry family member with pretty dramatic consequences.
And it’s not as rare as you might think.
In fact, in peak grass seed season, I might see one per week in the vet clinic…
What makes grass seeds so dangerous?
It’s just one thing. Their shape.
They’re engineered to be annoying! Genuinely. In fact, a grass seed’s dream is to be carried far away to start a new plant. And they do that by being ‘sticky’. Those barbs are designed to catch on animal fur and clothing.
But certain grass seeds have something else.
An arrow-head shape with backwards facing barbs. These are like fish hooks. They go in forwards but then can’t go in reverse.
So here’s how it happens:
Step 1: Your dog (or cat) walks through long grass
Step 2: They brush past a grass seed and it’s barbs (awns) stick in their coat
Step 3: If that grass seed’s pointy end is facing their skin, then the act of scratching (or even just lying down) pushes the seed into the skin
Step 4: If this happens enough, the pointy end of the seed penetrates the skin
Step 5: Due to the angle of the barbs on the seed, any movement from walking or pressure from lying down pushes the seed in but not out.
Step 6: Eventually, the seed disappears beneath the skin surface leaving a small weeping hole or abscess behind.
Step 7: Once inside, any movement of the body causes the seed to move too. But again, because of the arrow head shape of the seed, only further in.
Step 8: The migration of the seed continues. Remarkably, grass seeds can travel for up to a foot inside the body. All the while, intense amounts of infection and inflammation are being developed.
The signs of a grass seed:
It makes sense then that these are the warning signs to look out for:
- A firm feeling ‘knot’ in their coat
- Sudden pain
- Repeated licking of one spot
- Whimpering when scratching one area
- A lump on the legs, belly or neck
- A weeping wound that won’t heal
Grass seed hot spots:
Common problem grasses (with the pointy seeds!)
- Spear grass
- Wild oats
How to avoid them:
Sure. There’s no doubt a grass seed is bad luck. But there are some easy steps to avoid problems:
- Don’t let them run in long grass when it’s in seed
- Know your grass seed season (late spring, summer, early autumn)
- Brush them regularly, removing knots and tangles that could be playing host to a seed. Using a detangling and cleansing spray like my No Time to Wash Spray can help here…
- In the same way you feel for a tick, run your fingers through their coat feeling for any seeds, knots or lumps that shouldn’t be there…
- Get skin wounds and lumps looked at by your vet. Especially if they’re not healing…
- There’s no doubt long curly hair is a risk factor. Shaving can provide less of a target for those seeds in the warmer months…
There’s no doubt a grass seed is serious stuff. But once it attaches, you do have time to detect it before it goes on that frightening journey. Knowing your little mate’s lumps and bumps can be life saving!