Grass seeds are unfortunately one of the downsides of summer for many dog owners. If you haven't come across these prickly little suckers yet, consider yourself lucky! Chances are you know what they are and why they're a problem because you've already either dealt with them yourself or heard from somebody who has. But just in case you didn't get the memo, here's the basics of what you should know!
What should you be looking out for?
The seeds that cause issues can be from various different varieties of grasses, but most common around here tend to be speargrass and barley grass. They can be found anywhere where there is long grass (ie., longer than standard lawn length.... so pretty much around every walking track!) and they love to cling to your dog's fur (particularly if it's curly or longer, but short haired dogs can suffer too).
Why are they such an issue?
As mentioned above, grass seeds like to cling to dog's fur. Because many varieties have a pointed end like a dart it doesn't take much for them to stick right into the skin. Not only is this super uncomfortable but if left unnoticed they can embed deep into the skin, causing painful sores, skin irritation and the potential for infections. Once beneath the skin's surface, they can then migrate through the body causing huge problems internally.
All of the above can happen rather quickly and a quick Google search of 'grass seeds in dogs' brings up all kinds of articles and stories of dog owners' experiences, like this lady in Christchurch who ended up with a $700 vet bill. Ask around your dog owner friends and you'll probably find at least one of them has a grass seed story to share!
So these pesky invaders may be tiny, but they can cause hundreds or even thousands of dollars in vet appointments, surgery and scan costs. Not to mention, of course, a major risk to your dog's health. So isn't it worth spending a bit of time to do all you can to make sure your dog is free of seeds?
What can you do to prevent grass seeds becoming a problem?
Luckily, there are all kinds of things you can do as a dog owner to help keep the seeds at bay! Here are our suggestions:
- Check your dog immediately after each walk - if he/she has picked up any seeds along the way they could well be already making their way into the skin. Common problem areas include between the toes and in the grooves of the paw pad, in armpits, in legs, on the belly (especially for shorter dogs!) and behind ears.
- Daily brushing. If you're brushing your dog daily not only are you more likely to catch any stowaway seeds, you're also helping to make sure they don't have anywhere to hide. They're more likely to stick into a tangle than a smooth, slick hair. Don't just lightly brush your dog's back; take the time to choose the correct brushes and tools for your dog's coat to do a thorough job, and don't forget the problem areas (legs, ears, belly etc). If you need help to choose the correct brushes, ask your groomer! I for one am more than happy to spend time with my customers advising them what to purchase for best results at home.
- Regular grooming appointments. I can't tell you the number of dogs I'm seeing in the salon with grass seeds either already in the skin, or deep in the dog's fur just ready to cause issues. In fact, I'd go as far as saying up to 50% of the dog's coming to me over the last few months have seeds in their skin or fur and 100% of the owners had no idea. Truth is, groomers see everything on a dog's hair, because part of our job is keeping your dog's skin as healthy as possible, so that's exactly what we're focusing on. We'll get rid of any seed that is safe to remove before you even have to go to the vet, saving you more money and stress in the long run. We'll tell you about the ones we suspect might be there but we're unable to remove them, so that you are fully equipped with the knowledge to make that call about a vet visit nice and early (hopefully before it becomes a big issue!).
It's also worth noting the number of seeds that I only uncover while grooming after I've clipped out mats in the coat. There is no way of seeing or feeling these ones proper without grooming, so imagine how long they could be in there causing pain to your dog.
What should you do when you find them?
Some grass seeds are easy to spot or feel as you run your fingers through your dog's hair. These one can be gently picked or brushed out of the fur.
Seeds that have already made there way partly into the skin can also be removed at home, as mentioned above with a pair of sterile tweezers. Keep an eye on these areas for any signs of infection.
If a seed is fully embedded under your dog's skin, it may cause a lump that resembles a pimple, or a sore spot that can't otherwise be explained. If you see anything like this on your dog's skin it could well be a grass seed and this will need checking out by a vet. Your vet may be able to remove it there and then if it's just below the surface, otherwise your dog may require surgery. If a grass seed is suspected to have traveled to a different part of the body your dog may require a scan to determine next steps.
Wishing you all a safe and grass seed free rest of the summer!