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Grass seeds & Dogs Beware!

Kylie Tatti - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Grass seeds & Dogs Beware! Grass seed infections can be a great source of frustration for you and your dog, particularly in late spring and summer. They commonly lodge themselves into dogs’ paws, ears and eyes. It is important to recognise the signs of a possible grass seed problem early, as this can make treatment more straight forward. There are also a number of important preventative measures to put in place to prevent this problem occurring. 

How grass seed infections affect your dog

The shape of grass seeds with their sharp tip means that they can very easily penetrate through your dog’s skin or lodge themselves in your pet’s ears or eyes. Most seeds have an awn that fans out and makes it almost impossible for the grass seed to go backwards – similar to the action of the tip of a fish hook.

Dog in long grass

Grass seeds can lodge themselves into any part of your dog’s body. Grass seeds will generally start their journey when they get caught in your dog’s coat during a walk or play in long grass. From there, they are able to penetrate the skin and if undetected, can travel to various areas of the body. Grass seeds carry infection through the skin and into the body and will generally cause a painful swelling which progresses to cause an abscess in your dog.

Symptoms of grass seed infections

Signs of grass seed related problems depend on where the grass seed is lodged. This will often cause a swelling at the site of lodgement, which you dog will often become very irritated with. Often dogs will try to lick, scratch or chew the affected area.


Symptoms to look out for include:

Infected area

Toes and feet  

• swelling on the foot, often with a ‘weeping’ hole

• excessive licking or chewing


• shaking head or scratching ear

• painful to touch ear


• squinting or rubbing eye

• swollen eye with or without discharge


Diagnosis can often be done based on the history and clinical examination of your animal, and it is confirmed with the findings of a grass seed in an affected area.

Treating grass seed infections in your dog

Treatment depends on the location of the grass seed and how deeply the seed has lodged itself.

If a patient is cooperative the grass seed can sometimes be removed during a consultation, so long as it hasn’t travelled too deeply into the body and the patient is cooperative. Many dogs however, will require sedation or a general anaesthetic to allow probing for the seed, especially if the area is painful.

If the area affected is located in the skin, the affected area can be probed with a special tweezer-like instrument. Grass seeds in the ear can be retrieved with special long tweezers and grass seeds in the eye will often require removal with a cotton tip or tweezers – your dog’s eye will need further examinations and medications if the grass seed has caused damage to the eye.

If a grass seed is highly suspected, but no seed is found with probing, surgical exploration may be required to locate the seed. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication are usually required after removing a grass seed as they usually carry infection into the body where they have lodged and cause inflammation in the surrounding area.

Potential complications

These can include:

Infected area

Toes and feet

The grass seed has the potential to travel up your dog’s leg between tendons and ligaments, even up to the shoulder or the groin!


Grass seeds lodged inside the ear canal can cause chronic infection, and even rupture of the ear drum, causing serious problems with the deeper structures of the ear (the middle or inner ear canal).


Occasionally grass seeds can penetrate through the cornea (outer layer of the eye) and there is a risk that your dog may lose that eye.

Inhalation or ingestion



Grass seeds can be inhaled or swallowed. Grass seeds can get into airways and cause pneumonia, or even a collapsed lung. They can be very difficult to detect and a life threatening condition can quickly ensue. Ingested grass seeds are usually digested by the body, but in rare cases can penetrate through the digestive system into nearby tissues or organs.

Expected outcome

The expected outcome if the grass seed is removed is excellent. Infection and inflammation caused by the grass seed will usually resolve within a week without further problems. If the grass seed is not removed, infections will remainand seeds can travel to other areas or cause more severe complications.


It is important to be vigilant during the late spring and summer months when there is a greater risk of grass seed problems. Important tips to prevent grass seed problems are listed below:

• Keep your grass and weeds under control at home with regular maintenance
• Avoid long grass when on walks
• Keep long haired dogs groomed, particularly around their feet and ears. 
• Inspect your dog all over after each walk, making sure you check in between and under all toes and underneath the ears
• See a vet immediately if you suspect a grass seed problem, the earlier the problem is detected, the better chance you will have of finding the grass seed before it causes further problems or becomes very difficult to locate!

All information is generic and may not apply to your animal specifically. Please consult your veterinarian for advice tailored to you and your pet. Veterinary information has been written by Dr Matt Pascall and Dr Kristie Jennings and edited by Small Animal Internal Medicine Specialist Dr Reuben Fliegner. All information is current as at 01/04/2013.
     Ettinger, S. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Seventh Edition. Saunders, USA, 2010.
     Nelson, R. Small Animal Internal Medicine. Mosby, USA, 2010.
     Silverstein, D. Small Animal Critical Care. Saunders, USA, 2009. 

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