News & Advice

Working dogs vs grass seeds

Feb 5, 2022 | Dry stock, Working Dog

Working dogs, especially with long coats, are at high risk of contracting painful and persistent wounds from grass seeds. barley grass, sword grass and yellow bristle grass are some of the biggest offenders. Here are some helpful tips on how to keep these pesky plants from ruining your working dog’s summer.


What makes these seeds so dangerous?

Grass seeds have a sharp pointed arrowhead that can penetrate skin and stick easily to fur.

Microscopic barbs on the seed’s tail prevent them from coming back out after they have attached.

The seeds cause very painful wounds and are destructive to surrounding tissues.

Seeds can become lodged in any part of the body and can migrate extensively, even into vital organs.

The wounds seeds cause often stay open and become infected by opportunistic bacteria.

These cases often require surgical intervention as the seeds are quite resilient and can cause long-term complications. They can be extremely difficult to find, even during surgical exploration because the dog’s immune system recognizes the seed as a foreign body, and will try to make a barricade against it by creating reactive tissue and abscessation.


Where do the grass seeds commonly attach?

We find grass seeds anywhere and everywhere. However, in ears, between toes and in armpits are the most common places for grass seeds to lodge. They are also frequently found in the eyes, nose, mouth, rectum, vulva and prepuce. Rarely, they can have serious complications and can lead to blindness, deafness, difficulty breathing and persistent lameness.

A grass seed that was removed from a dogs eye.

What signs should I look for?

The most common presentation for grass seed is a sudden onset lameness with a small, red, painful seeping wound between the toes or in the armpits. Discharge from these wounds can vary in consistency and colour from thick, white and smelly fluid to clear or red, thin and sticky fluid. Often, the first clinical sign that owner’s notice is that their dog is licking the paw incessantly. Remember, the grass seed may attach and enter the body from anywhere so draining wounds can appear in an endless number of places on the dog. Another common presentation is the sudden onset of one-sided ear discomfort including a head tilt, head shaking and scratching at the ear. Similarly, you may notice a sudden one-sided eye swelling, with a closed eye, discharge, pain and rubbing at the eye. Or, frequent sneezing, pawing at the nose and discharge from one nostril can be noted if there is a grass seed lodged there. Less common presentations include breathing difficulty, coughing or vomiting if the seed has been ingested, urinary issues if the seed has migrated into the bladder via the urethra, and changes in behaviour or balance if the seed has travelled into the inner ear or brain.


How can I prevent a grass seed attack?



  • Put protective vests and shirts on working dogs, especially when they are in long grass.
  • The coat and especially the paws, armpits and ear fur should be kept short during the summer months.
  • Check your dog daily, especially after walking in tall grass that is dry and seeding.
  • Remove all grass seeds from coat, paying special attention to ears, toes and armpits.
  • Take your dog to the vet for sudden onset of ear discomfort, lameness, and small discharging wounds especially if they are frequently exercising in tall, seeding, dry grass.


What should I do if I think my working dog has a barley grass seed wound?

Bring your dog into the vet as soon as you suspect a grass seed foreign body. If caught early, sometimes we can pull the seed out with tweezers and light sedation. However, usually the seed has already migrated, and we must explore the area surgically to attempt to recover the seed and treat the wound. Unfortunately, the entry wound is not always visible, so we sometimes hunt for seeds in an abscess. They can be extremely difficult to find and sometimes they cannot always be found. In some instances, additional imaging, like an ultrasound exam, may be recommended. Often, after the wound has been explored, veterinarians will manage these cases with some combination of pain control and antibiotics.


Things to remember:

The longer the grass seed is in the body, the farther it can migrate, the harder it is to remove and the more damage it can cause.

Prevention is the best treatment because sometimes we go to surgery and cannot recover the seed if it has migrated extensively.

When dogs try to remove the seed themselves, they often help the seed migrate further from the entry point making them more difficult to remove. Further, they can accidentally swallow or inhale the seed that will then continue to migrate.

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