Preparing your Dog for Summer: the ‘dreaded’ Grass Seed

There’s an old expression drilled into every vet student teaching us that ‘common things are common’ so when a dog enters my consulting room shaking its head or licking its paw during the summer months, top of my list of possible diagnoses is always the dreaded grass seed.

I say ‘dreaded’ for a few reasons which we’ll come to, but for unfortunate owners of dogs suffering from this extremely common seasonal problem, watching their beloved pooch looking so uncomfortable, usually lethargic, and in a lot of pain, can be equally as distressing as receiving the final bill for the treatment needed to fix this often preventable problem – another worthy reason to take out insurance for your four-legged friend.

The type of dog typicallly affected by grass seeds is the spaniel (pictured) but Jack Russells, Westies and basically all breeds possessing hairy ears and feet are at risk if walked in meadows or woodlands where these grasses commonly grow in abundance.

Spaniels often pick up grass seeds in their feathery paws

But just how can these tiny innocent little grass seeds cause potentially huge and expensive problems in such robust breeds of dog you may ask?

Well it’s mainly down to their minute shape coupled with nature’s unique design. When examined closely dry Foxtail grass seeds resemble tiny arrowheads (pictured) easily attaching themselves to an animal’s fur before travelling only one way in towards the skin of that victim’s bodypart.

Tiny arrowheads of the foxtail grass

The two most common presentations of a dog with a grass seed we’ll examine here are the foot and the ear, although other places on your dog’s body can be at risk too.

Firstly, in between the toes of any foot, referred to as the interdigital (literally between the toes) space (pictured).

The grass seed already attached to the surrounding soft feathery fur now makes its way towards the foot itself, penetrating with ease the thin skin before starting to burrow deep into – and through – highly sensitive tissues of the foot resulting in extreme pain, discomfort, infection and sudden onset (acute) lameness.

Time and vigilance are of the essence here as the longer grass seeds are left on your dog unnoticed and untreated, the more likely they are to burrow right through the skin, track up the paw, then the leg, sometimes even reaching the chest cavity. There are plenty of recorded cases where a single grass seed has travelled all the way from the toes only to end its journey deep inside the heart!

Occasionally you’ll get lucky. Either the seed’s just been noticed and removed from your dog’s fur, not having had the chance to pierce the skin yet, or it’s only just that second punctured the skin and can easily be pulled-out without any sedation at all; the tiny puncture wound is then simply bathed and treated.

But more often than not, the grass seed has already burrowed its way into your dog’s foot and now requires heavy sedation or even a general anaesthetic to attempt to locate and hopefully extract this most frustrating of foreign bodies.

This technique usually involves numerous ‘blind’ attempts of fishing around through the entry-hole with a specially designed long pair of tweezers called crocodile forceps (pictured).

Crocodile forceps are usually required to remove grass seeds

As grass seeds are made from vegetable matter they’re invisible on X-Ray (unlike bone or metal) so their exact location within the paw is usually a mystery. Sometimes a second hole is detected where the grass seed has already travelled through the entire foot and exited through the other side leaving a narrow empty tunnel connecting the two, or ‘sinus’.

The second most common place for these seeds to cause problems is down the ear canal, as once again their unidirectional nature and shape makes pretty sure that by the time your dog is on the examination table, the grass seed has already worked its way from the fur around the ears down along the ear canal, and come to rest right up against the delicate ear drum.

It’s no wonder that these dogs usually present frantically pawing and rubbing the affected ear on the ground, and find it incredibly painful to touch or even examine the ear with an auroscope to even confirm the diagnosis.
As a result, with incredibly brave dogs they can be successfully and safely removed with the same long tweezers used earlier but it’s usually preferable once again to sedate enabling your vet to fully visualize the seed and carry out its safe removal, whilst checking for others, as well as making sure the ear drum’s intact.

Typical appearance of grass seed entry wound

As with all clinical conditions affecting our pets, prevention is always better than cure.

Owners of all dogs, especially more vulnerable breeds, should make sure the fur on their paws, toes and around their ears is kept trimmed very short during the summer and autumn months. Sometimes even booties can be worn when going outside.

Every inch of your dog should be routinely checked after returning home from every walk and checked for grass seeds, as there are a few other places on your dog’s anatomy, including eyelids and lip folds, where they can get stuck and cause similar problems.

So if you notice any of the above signs, especially head-shaking or paw-licking or any other abnormality then please always call your vet asap for the most successful treatment outcomes.

Finally please also help to raise awareness and tell others – especially first-time dog owners – of the symptoms to look out for, as a tiny little grass seed can often be the cause of one of the most painful, expensive, and commonest conditions our beloved dogs can suffer from.

Share this:

20 replies

  1. I am worried now: my Norwich had an operation for a blister-like thing between his toes last year, which looked a lot like your picture, but pussy. The vet diagnosed it as a foreign body, most likely a grass seed (after antibiotics and salt water washes failed to work) and put him under anaesthetic to retrieve it. He found nothing though, and gave Pepper a stitch or two and sent him on his way. Now I am afraid that it was a grass seed after all and is slowly worming its way north :S

  2. Hi i have a 7 year. old staffordshire bull terrior and he always shakes his head and tilts his head 2 the side as if he’s trying 2 get something out could this be grassseeds if not what else could it be?

  3. My poor 8 year old cross collie, ‘Harvey’ began displaying concerning symptoms 6 days ago. He was struggling to maintain his balance and staggering on back legs. The vet on the following day proceeded to discover that his eyelid was not reacting properly; we were even more dismayed. Back to the vets on day 3. They put him under and performed an exploratorly exam of his ear. We received a phone call 2 hours later to tell us they had found a tiny GRASS SEED embedded on his ear wall. We were most relieved as we had feared brain tumours, blood clots, spinal damage. He was given anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. We are now on day 7. He is still displaying the same symptoms with no visable improvement. He goes back to the vet in 2 days. I (who am not an expert) hope that I should not really expect him to be better yet as it must take a while for his body to fight the infection and readjust. I remain very distressed to see my big strong boy so reduced by a seemingly harmless seed and have cancelled my holiday to look after him. Love, care and veterinary assistance will not be spared in our effort to make him better.

  4. my dog is a 7 year old black snhawzer, and i recently a problem with his left back foot and found between the bottom of his foot pads is a pink saw it felt a little sharp so as i looked i think it could be a grass seed and it had loads of yellow puss init i managed to get the puss out and it left a small hole with the seed in it but as i pressed down to get the seet which i could feel and see my dog was getting upset and wouldnt sit still even having 2 people hold him down so my question is if i take him to the vets to get it out with tweezers and to clean it up and put him on a light seditive how much rougly would it be as its reletivly easy to get to but my dogs in alot of pain? Thankyou

  5. My 10 year old Westie has had 4 rounds of antibiotics, antihistamines and a pink antibacterial wash to treat the blisters that keep appearing between his toes. Nothing seems to be working. The blisters swell, burst, he licks away the blood and a day or so later, they swell again. Just seems to be between the same toes now although when it started last year it seemed to be affecting the underside of his pads on his back feet. The vet doesn’t seem to think its grass seed but allergy. I’m at my wits end trying to find something to ease his pain.

  6. Our poor English springer spaniel has been afflicted by the apparently harmless grass seeds. She was limping and looked very unhappy. We took her to the vets and they said that she had grass seeds buried in her underarm. She had a general anesthetic and the seeds removed with crocodile clips. She has been put on antibiotics and painkillers. Our bouncy springer spaniel is now recovering and very subdued. Wish we had known about grass seeds earlier.

  7. My poor Golden doodle – Riley, has been under general anesthetic today and had grass seeds removed from both his armpits, I feel so bad for being ingnorant to these dreaded seeds !!!! he is not in a good place at the moment.
    I wish to goodness I had noticed sooner and even though he is well groomed I STILL didnt know they were there…..
    Hence I am on websites to get a better understanding on the blasted things !

  8. Liz
    I am with you on this one. I am sitting here with my 10 month old Briard while he is recovering from grass seed removal in both rear paws and both ears.I feel so guilty and ignorant that I didn’t know about this.The breeder said nothing and there is nothing in any of the Briard books and articles I have read.A sad case of you live and learn but I will be spreading the word from now on.

  9. My 1yr old puppy recently encountered the grass seeds! one day i noticed her limping so me and my mum took her to the vets and came out thinking it was simply a pulled muscle but after finding a clump between her toes on one of her paws we found a grass seed… we look through the rest of her paws and didn’t find any more until i looked the next day only to mind at least 2 or 3 in each paw and a couple in bedded. after a long search that night me and my mum discovered a large bald lump on one of her paws and a oozing wound on another, we then obviously took her back to the vets only for them to tell us that my pup needed to go in for an operation to check everything was okay. on getting her back we found out that she had had 3 fully in beaded in her paws and infected paws and after a very large bill we went home with everything okay until we found a lump on one of her paws which had had both a seed and an infection… the moral of my story is to make sure you check your dogs paws and make sure there are none because it is 1 very painful for the dog and 2 it is very expensive when they are there! its also a good idea to have insurance it makes things that bit easier and cheaper!!!!

  10. My cocker spaniel picked up a seed in his ear only last week. It’s very painful for them, and I knew what it was straight away ( having had spaniels before) and rushed him off to the vet. . Luckily, since he’s black, I can easily spot them in his fur and paws, and I make sure I check him over after a walk. My previous spaniel was golden and the seeds were so well camouflaged it was a regular problem.
    I don’t want to stop taking Bertie into the countryside, so I made him a little snood to cover his ears from the leg part of a pair of tights. It fits over his ears perfectly, and though it looks a little odd, he can still hear everything, and more importantly, the seeds can’t get in.

  11. My Patterdale had surgery last Wednesday to removed grass seeds in both front feet. The first one had travelled up his leg a little to the wrist and caused an abcess which burst, it wasnt until it burst that I noticed it. He had been licking his paw about 5 days before & was a little lame, but stopped licking, was sound and charging about the same as usual after a couple of days, then he started licking the other paw. I thought it was itchy feet due to some allergy, he was also being treated for mange so I thought it could be that too. But when the abcess burst I knew that it would be a dreaded grass seed and that it was more than likely the same in the other foot.

    Thankfully the vet managed to retrieve both seeds, one was in the foot between the toes and the other was still in the abcess. That was 5 days ago and the little man is doing well, but it has been so stressful for me. I am watching him like a hawk and sleeping on the sofa with him to try and prevent licking, the collars stress him to the extent of it being bad for him in my opinion. I think we are over the worst now, but the poor little man also had a nasty reaction to being clipped between his toes and foot and on his neck where they took blood and the skin became sore and scabby, they gave him Fuciderm, but he reacted to that and it made it worse. I stopped applying the Fuciderm and now it is getting better. All for a couple of grass seeds, I will be paranoid about them from now on :0(

  12. My 7 month old mini foxy 3 weeks ago wouldn’t let anyone open her mouth and yelped when anyone tried. After going to two different vets and going under general anaesthetic the vet still couldn’t see anything or get her mouth open very far. After antibiotics and anti inflammatories no better then one night I noticed her eye was swollen and pushed forward. I then took her to the university vets and she had to have a C T scan. They saw something in the back of the eye and operated and found a 2cm grass seed and removed it. Unfortunately there is bad infection in the eye and still a chance of losing the eye. She has been in a specialist hospital with an opthamologist. This so far has cost me over $5000. So I advise to be really careful about grass seeds. Who’d have thought they could cause this much trouble

  13. I myself went through this with my sweet boy Neo a Silky Terrier. I now tell everyone I know about these dreaded grass seeds , we had no idea that he even had anything wrong until I noticed him licking his paw so much and when I checked it saw his paw was pretty swollen. I let his hair grow a little long so didn’t notice the swelling but when I did I immediately took him to the vet! Unfortunately they made a hole on the top of his paw only to tell me that they didn’t find anything and that it may be cancer ! Of course I lost it and so I continued to soak his paw like they told me and one day noticed something sticking out of the top of his paw, so I picked him up and my husband pulled out the dredded grass seed! The vet visit ran us close to 500.00 and all they did was make a hole in my dogs paw and incorrectly diagnose him , very upsetting ! So now I feel it’s my duty , to let everyone that has a dog know of this because it can even be deadly ! Good luck to all.

  14. My pup recently had a large lump on his face investigated . Inside they found a blade of grass and in his tonsil bed were grass seeds. Am waiting now he off his meds to see if it swells again. If it does the process starts again. I never knew grass could be so tricky for dogs.

  15. My cocker spaniel recently had a problem with his back left paw and went from constantly licking it to not being able to put it to the floor, we took him straight to the vets who found a small entry point between his toes where he said a grass seed was probably in there. We were sure he was wrong as we had never heard anything like this before and he is 5 years old and has always loved running in long grass. However, they said they wanted to put him out and investigate, which they did much to my reluctance, I was so upset when I had to leave him at the vets but even more upset when we went to get him and they told us they had found bits of grass but no seed after looking for 2 hours! My poor boy was in terrible pain, he had an open wound left on his leg which the vet said was for the fluid to drain out and we had to clean it twice a day and squeeze the huge lump that had accumulated on his hock to get rid of said fluid. It’s been 2 weeks now of constant cleaning and squeezing and sleeping on the sofa so we can make sure he isn’t licking the wound and he has had another swelling appear on his upper leg which makes my stomach flip knowing that they will have to have him in again and have another look. My poor darling lad has been so uncomfortable and not himself the past 2 weeks and I am dreading the check up tomorrow because I just know he will have to go through the whole sorry process again and who knows if they will even find anything?? I urge anyone who has a dog susceptible to grass seed to please check your dog regularly, I certainly will from now on for sure, I would hate anyone else to have to go through this horrible situation.

  16. My 7 month old cockapoo who is so lively usually was not himself last night. He was off his food and he didn’t want to go out. I noticed he was limping slightly too and when I tried to go near him he would move away. I eventually got close enough to inspect his fur and to my horror I found two huge sores in his armpits. I took him to the vet immediately. They gave him some anti biotic and painkiller. He has to go back first thing in the morning to be sedated to have the grass seeds removed. I wish I had known about this earlier too. I could have saved my little boy so much pain and suffering.

  17. My 11 month old ESS is currently at the specialist vet centre at Six Mile Bottom, Newmarket, two days ago she seemed a little quite before bed and again in the morning, but still was pleased to see me and to look for mice in the garden, she had a 12 minute trip in the car to her exercise area, by that time her hind right leg was paralysed. After a day in the vets where blood tests showed high white cells and xrays showed nothing, she was referred to the specialist vet centre. The following morning she had a spinal tap and MRI scan, which has revealed a foreign body in the muscle under the spine. The vet is almost certain this is a grass seed and will have to be surgically removed. Poor little thing hasn’t been near long grass recently and showed no signs of lameness, I wouldn’t expect at this time of year to have grass seed problems, fingers crossed for a full and speedy recovery and that the bill doesn’t exceed £4000 ( the current estimate) as the insurance limit is £2000. No amount of hairy toe grooming could have avoided this as the vet thinks this may have been inhaled!Hoping this doesn’t become a habit as my old ESS has never had a grass seed problem….touch wood!

Comments are now closed.