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Louisa the vet on ... Why small grass seeds in dogs are a huge problem

Written by Dr Louisa Lane
14th Jul 2022
6 mins read
The header image shows vet Dr Louisa Lane smiling at the camera while holding a black Cocker Spaniel puppy. The background has been removed and replaced with a plain blue background with a series of pale blue question marks.
Grass seeds are small and sharp, and can easily get stuck in your dog’s skin. They not only cause wounds and potential infection, they can get under the skin and travel around the body. Many dogs get grass seeds stuck in-between their toes, causing painful cysts. But grass seeds can also get into their ears, eyes, even their lungs. Always check your dog after walks and brush them to get rid of any seeds. If you see a seed stuck in your dog’s skin, or in their ear, call your vet for advice.
Grass seeds in dogs becomes a common problem during the warmer weather. If your dog runs through wild grass, they can easily get seeds stuck in their skin, ears, eyes, and in-between their toes. If you think a splinter in your finger is sore, think about having a dart-shaped seed stuck there!
In this article, veterinarian Dr Louisa Lane talk about why grass seeds pose such a big problem to dogs, what happens if a grass seed gets stuck, and what you can do to protect your pup.

Are grass seeds bad for dogs? What problems do they cause?

Grass seeds are common at this time of year and are inherently a problem, especially in dogs.
Because these seeds are small and pointy (they’re actually very sharp!) they manage to find their way into our dog’s ears, paws, and even around their eyes. This leads to a whole host of problems.
Primarily we see dogs with a wound, abscess, or cysts between their toes, (“interdigital cysts”). But you can get dogs that come in with an acutely sore ear or eye where the seed has become lodged.
We even get dogs that have inhaled grass seeds, and these seeds migrate into their lungs causing lung abscesses. So we get all sorts of presentations including coughing lethargic dogs. Scary!

I know my Springer Spaniel always seems to attract grass seeds. Are certain dogs more likely to get grass seeds stuck in their fur, or is it a problem for all dogs?

From experience, I see them in younger more active dogs, primarily because they’re running around off lead in the fields compared to dogs kept on leads or dogs who just prefer short walks or a potter. I also see them a lot in spaniels with their long hairy ears!
But, any breed can be struck by grass seed problems.
Longer haired dogs are more likely to get seeds stuck into their coat, which could make them more predisposed to problems. This is because the sharp seeds push through their fur towards the skin, and then push into the skin!
However, these can be brushed out if you notice them straight away.

What areas of the body are usually affected by grass seeds? Are there certain body parts that are more vulnerable to injury?

We commonly see grass seeds in dogs’ feet, in their ears, or even around the eyes.
But the seeds can make their way anywhere because they’re sharp and they move around the body once within the skin. They can enter a dog's foot and migrate upwards in their leg, leaving large infected tracking wounds as they move. They can also be inhaled or swallowed.

What symptoms might my pet show if there’s a grass seed stuck in their paw, or in their ear?

Grass seeds are pointy and sharp and cause quite a lot of irritation and pain. Signs to look for are rubbing or shaking at the head with a sore red ear. Normally it's just the one ear. Or constantly nibbling and chewing at the foot.
Commonly we see interdigital cysts, which are painful swellings with a central oozing hole between their toes.
If there has been a grass seed in your dog for a few days or longer, an infection may have started and you may notice really hot sore swollen areas that ooze.
Sometimes you can see the hole where the grass seed entered, and a hole where it's actually exited the skin further away, because they move within the skin. Gross.

Are there any home remedies for grass seeds in dogs’ ears and paws? Or do I need to take them straight to the vet for treatment?

If you see grass seeds in your dog’s fur, brush them out as soon as possible. If they’re left, because they’re sharp, they can make their way towards the skin and embed in the skin.
If the seeds are already in the skin and you can see it, get to a vet. For the most part a vet needs to have a look and treat grass seeds because they leave nasty sore wounds or cause ear infections if they’re not treated and removed properly.

What treatment should I expect?

Often a course of anti-inflammatories as a minimum, but antibiotics will be needed if an infection has started.
Ultimately, we need to remove the grass seed, and it's tricky to sometimes find them. If we believe a grass seed to be stuck in the skin somewhere, for example between the toes, sedation or a general anaesthetic is needed to safely and painlessly find and remove the grass seed.
They can penetrate quite far in, and as mentioned before, they move around. So the seed can be really far away from where they entered in the first place sometimes. Sedation is often needed to remove grass seeds in a dog's ear or around their eyes too because they’re so painful.

On average, how much does grass seed removal cost?

This depends on the pet and their size, breed, age, health status. It also depends where the grass seed is and what damage it has caused.
A young fit and healthy pet may require a quick sedation to check and remove grass seeds from their eye or ears, but this may still cost between £200-350 for sedation and some medications to go home with.
If a pet is older, or has underlying health issues, they may require an additional blood test prior to this, which can be roughly an additional £75-£150.
If we need to explore a painful wound with surgery, where we are suspicious of a grass seed, then this may need a full general anaesthetic with the surgical time to find, remove and perhaps suture up. This can be around £250-650 including medications to go home with (including antibiotics, anti inflammatories).
Don’t forget, the larger the dog, the more things tend to cost as they require more medications so it's dependent on this too.
Sometimes, specific imaging is needed to look for a grass seed such as ultrasound or even CT scans. So in some more serious cases (as I mentioned before, grass seeds can end up in dogs lungs!) you can be talking thousands of pounds. An ultrasound may cost you around £100, but a CT you are looking at £1000-3000 depending on where you go. Then it's the surgery to remove the seed if that's needed.. it all adds up.
Costs vary greatly depending on the case, the area you live, and your veterinary practice. Your vet should always happily provide you with a breakdown of the price estimate.
This is why
dog insurance
is so important, because something as seemingly benign or common as a grass seed can rack up to thousands of pounds in severe cases.

What can I do to protect my pup and prevent getting grass seeds in dog paws and ears?

There are a few things you can do to prevent grass seeds in dogs’ paws and ears. Firstly, keep your dog’s fur short so seeds can’t get stuck in it.
Always check over your dogs after you've walked them and give them a good brush to dislodge any seeds. Check their feet, in particular, and in-between their toes.
Grass seeds are a much more common problem in the warmer summer months, so just be mindful of where you walk them. And if you see a field full of long grass seeds, put them on a lead until you’re away from them.

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