Grass Seed in a Dog's Paw – Removal & Symptoms of Foxtails
As a veterinarian, one thing I can be guaranteed to see this Spring and Summer is a grass seed in a dog paw and a fish hook snagged in the lip of a curious puppy. Why? Because there are plenty of grass seed and fish hooks around at this time of year, and that is what they are both designed to do. They go in one way and they don’t like combing back out. Yes, grass seeds are bad news for dogs. I once removed 12 grass seeds from the nose and ears of one dog! They are horrible things.
One look at the structure of a grass seed, foxtail, or grass awn tells you why these are such a problem. Just like a fish hook they have a sharp pointy end to easily penetrate your dog’s skin. On the other end, splayed barbs that are perfect at getting caught up in the fur of a pet passing by. Once embedded, the barbs stop the grass seed from backing out the way it came in.
The common areas of a dog for grass seeds to be a problem are:
- embedded in between their toes
- a grass seed up a dog’s nose
- in their ear canals
- occasionally their mouths, especially if they try to lick them off their coat
- caught in their eye, particularly under the third eyelid (a membrane in the corner of their eye)
They usually either walk on the grass seed, or they bury their face into bushy areas sniffing around and get one snagged in the process.
Most of the time you will know if your dog has a grass seed embedded. They are extremely irritating. If a grass seed is stuck in your dog’s paw, the main symptom will be licking or chewing at their paws excessively after a walk. If a grass seed is in their nostril they will be constantly sneezing and often paw at the side of their nose. If in the ear canal, they will be constantly shaking their head or scratching at their ears.
Why all the fuss over something so small anyway? Because grass seeds love going one way and one way only. This means they are great at migrating underneath your dogs’ skin and further. Grass seeds can enter the paw and migrate all the way up the leg to lodge next to your dog’s spine or in their abdomen. If inhaled, they can penetrate and become lodged in the lungs. Not only is their presence irritating to the body as a foreign material, but they also track an array of bacteria and infection along their path. This usually leads to abscesses filled with pus. When on the outside of a dog or just under a skin, these can be relatively easily dealt with by your veterinarian. They usually require lancing to remove the offending awn. However, if an abscess forms internally, they can be much harder to deal with, and can even be deadly.
So how do we prevent these from becoming a problem? Unless your dog is a hunting dog, the best way to avoid grass seeds is to stick to short grassed areas and manicured lawns. Make sure your own backyard is kept well mowed as grass seeds usually stick up on long stalks in un-mowed areas. Aside from that, any sort of physical barrier is the next best option. Rugged outdoor dog boots can form a great barrier to grass seeds getting stuck in dog paws. Light clothing or a dog jacket can form a barrier for the chest area.
The other thing that can help to prevent foxtails from attaching to your dog’s paws is to keep the hair between the toes as short as possible. This stops the seeds from latching on to your dog’s coat. This is the reason why grass seeds don’t often cause people a problem (we don’t have fur). Even if not trimming the whole body, investing in a pair of small clippers to keep the feet area trimmed is a good idea.
Be observant. If your dog is licking excessively, sneezing or scratching their ears, check them out sooner than later. The easiest time to remove a grass seed is before it becomes completely embedded and disappears from view. After a walk, run your hands over your dog’s coat to check for any seed they may have picked up. Pay particular attention to examining in between their toes and pads (including underneath their paw). If you find any attached, your best chance at a grass seed in a dog paw is removal via grasping it at the base and pull out gently, ensuring all of it is removed.
Some people have reported using the application of osmotic substances to draw the grass seed out of a paw along with bodily fluid. In my experience it is very uncommon for this to work, and by delaying removal, you increase the chance of a grass seed migrating further into your dog where it can become a bigger problem.
Once a grass seed becomes embedded or it becomes lodged in your dog’s nose or ears there’s not a lot you can do at home. The best thing to do is to not delay and have your vet check for grass seeds as soon as possible. Once they migrate further into your dog than just the skin, nose and ears, they become hard to find and remove, even for your veterinarian. Not to mention if ultrasound and CT/MRI scans are needed to find this needle in a haystack, there will be both significant added trauma to your pet as well as significant extra cost to you as the owner.
Prevention is the biggest thing I can stress. To recap:
- Avoid long grass areas when out for a walk with your dog,
- Keep your own lawn and backyard mowed and short,
- Have your dog wear boots when out for a walk, particularly in bushy or long grass areas, and particularly in spring and summer months when grass seeds are the biggest problem,
- Keep the hair in between your dog’s toes and paws as trim as possible, and
- Give your pet a once over check each time after a walk. Paying particular attention to in between the feet for the best chance at removing a grass seed early.
Thanks for reading, I hope this helps in some way to minimise this common problem for you during this season of the year. If you’ve had a bad experience with grass seeds, I’d love to hear your story so please share it down below in the comments. If you found this helpful, please also share this on facebook and twitter for other people to benefit. Stay safe and have fun!