Grass with sharp hygroscopic seeds are common in SA with many grasses producing these so-called ‘awns’ during summer and early winter. Dogs are especially at risk if they have longer coats with a thick undercoat although any animal can be at risk. Several kinds of these barbed grasses flourish in South Africa, posing a significant danger to pets, as the awns burrow into the dog’s skin or are caught in the eye, nose or ears. They may even kill your dog.
Remember how it feels when you return from a hike to find burrs and grass awns stuck in your socks? We can remove them with our fingers but when awns get stuck in your pet’s fur, they can’t lick or bite them out and rely on you to remove them. Sometimes awns get into ears, eyes or noses so a thorough body check is essential if your dog has been outdoors.
Grass awns: how to check your pets
The best way to prevent the awn that is stuck in your dog’s fur from penetrating his skin, is to thoroughly check his coat after he’s been out. Gently untangle the grass awn and burn it so that it doesn’t spread to your own garden. If your dog keeps licking a part of its body all of a sudden, check for a seed that might already have penetrated the skin. The same goes for a dog that suddenly starts shaking its head or pawing at its nose or eyes. Look especially carefully between the foot pads, and under the arms . You might only notice a small wound, or that your dog is tilting his head or sneezing. Take your dog to your vet sooner rather than later.
What your vet will do
If the awns are no longer visible the pet needs sedation or even full general anaesthetic so that your vet can explore the little wound and extract the whole awn (often multi pronged so we need to be careful of pieces breaking off). If left untreated these awns can migrate throughout the body and cause infection and damage, even to internal organs. Death is possible. Mostly we’ll remove a single awn but at EberVet Pet Clinic we have removed upwards of 30 awns from a Husky cross and have removed awns from a Spaniel’s ear canal (stuck in its ear drum), and a Giant Schnauzer’s eye (stuck behind its 3rdeyelid). We are usually surprised by the amount of damage these little pesky things can do.