A hidden danger emerges as lush, spring grass dries up in the hot weather of early summer. The dried grass seeds, called grass awns, pose a potentially deadly threat to your pet.
These grass awns frequently become lodged in your pet’s fur or body openings. The most common places for grass awns to become stuck are between the toes, in eyes and ears. If they are removed promptly, only minor irritation results. The special shape of these awns allows them to burrow deeper into your pet if they are not removed promptly.
Awns in the eye cause infection, corneal ulcers, and eventual blindness. Awns in the ear cause external ear infections and often will penetrate the ear drum to cause middle ear infections, loss of balance, hearing loss, and potentially seizures. Awns that are lodged in your pet’s skin will burrow under the skin to create an abscess (a pocket of puss and bacteria). Some awns will burrow even deeper to penetrate body cavities and internal organs. These deeper penetrating awns will cause severe life threatening infections and can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
Cheat grass is most commonly responsible for these problems. Cheat grass may also be known as June grass or foxtails. It is a non-native, invasive plant that grows in disturbed areas often along roads and trails.
The best prevention for your pets is to avoid exposure. If you have this type of grass growing in or around your yard, its best to physically remove seed heads and dispose of them where your pet will not be exposed to them (and preferably where the seeds will not grow to cause a problem next year). Watch out for and avoid patches of dried cheat grass when you are out walking or hiking with your pet.
If your pet has had exposure to an area containing dried grass awns, be sure to check your pet’s ENTIRE body thoroughly. Pay close attention to the areas between the toes, in the armpits, and under the tail. If awns become lodged in the eye your pet will be squinting or rubbing at its face. Grass awns that enter the ear canal cause head shaking, ear scratching and tilting of the head.
If you notice any of these symptoms with your pet, you should seek prompt veterinary care. Your veterinarian has special tools to help them quickly identify and safely remove grass awns. Adhering to these simple precautions can keep your pet out enjoying life all summer long.