Beware of Spear grass!

Just in the last week alone, I treated four pets in my practice with spear grass in their ears. Spear grass invasion is a subject that becomes relevant every year in the spring and summer seasons, hence I republish the article about spear grass with the hope it will spare suffering from your pet.   

Spear grass is a type of a wild grass with barbed seed heads. The spear grass awns carry the seeds - they are very sharp and can bear a hazard to your pet.

Spear grass is very common in our area, and can be found everywhere including in your own yard. Spear grass is most harmful for dogs once it has become dried out and more easily falls from the stalks. It is most often a problem from late spring through the fall.

The shape of the grass awns makes them very likely to penetrate into the body. Because of the shape of the grass, it cannot back out the way it came in and so can only move forward. The most common areas in the body prone to Spear grass invasion are between the toes and in the ear canal, but in my career I’ve removed Spear grass from various places in the body, including the nose, eyes and the genitals.

The awn burrows into the tissue and acts as a foreign body. The body recognizes the foreign body and develops an inflammatory reaction around it. The area becomes swollen, red and very painful. If left untreated an abscess can be formed. An abscess is a pocket of pus, that keeps growing until it becomes very big and the tension might lead to the burst of the abscess and to a large open wound.

When Spear grass penetrates the ear canal, the consequences can be severe. Because of the incredible grass migratory ability and inability to back out there is a risk that the awn will perforate the ear drum. This condition might lead to permanent complications in the ear.

The symptoms of Spear grass penetration are acute pain, swelling and redness. If found between the toes the pet might limp on the leg and will lick the paw constantly.

Spear grass in the ear canal is usually manifested by a sudden onset of head shaking, scratching the ear, restlessness and yelping. Having symptoms in only one ear is very suspicious for possible spear grass presence.

If you recognize any of these symptoms take your pet to see your vet. The earlier the process is treated the easier it is to prevent complications. Very frequently Spear grass removal requires some sort of sedation or general anesthesia. The spear Grass awn needs to be taken out and in case of an abscess formed, the veterinarian might place a drain for a few days. The veterinarian is also very likely to recommend topical or systemic course of antibiotics and pain medication. Withholding the removal of the awn may complicate the condition. Sometimes the awn penetrates so deep that it is hard or even impossible to locate and remove it.

You can try to prevent Spear grass penetration by a few means. First being aware of the risk is very important. Make sure your yard is Spear grass free. If your pet’s paws are very hairy, shave the area between the tows to reduce the chances of the grass entrapment and better visualization of the area. After walks outside inspect your dog’s body, especially the ears and paws and remove any foreign body immediately.

Spring and summertime is a wonderful time for pets and their owners to be outside enjoying the sights and sounds. You can make sure that all this fun activity remains a happy memory by being aware of the risk of Spear grass and early treatment if needed.

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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