The Danger of Grass Seeds

A long dry Hawkes Bay summer may be great for BBQs and trips to the beach, but also causes many grasses and weeds to dry out and scatter their seeds. Many of these seeds, especially barley grass seeds have a sharp point at the end with microscopic barbs present on the tail.  When these seeds come into contact with your pet's coat, they tend to stick into the fur.  The pointed end then penetrates into the skin and the one-way barbs stop the seeds coming out. If the seed is not removed immediately then it starts to track deeper and deeper into the tissue.

These seeds can track large distances through tissue causing excessive damage and infection throughout their journey.  The situation is made worse as the body recognises the seed as foreign, so produces lots of reactive tissue around the seed in an attempt to ‘wall it off’ from our body.  I’ve lost count of how many seeds I have removed from various parts of the body in dogs. 


Signs to watch for:

The seeds can enter any part of the body, but dogs with excessive hair or long hair are more prone to problems as the seed sticks initially into the coat. As the seed first enters the tissue there is a small hole with swelling and often a small amount of fluid discharging from it.  As it begins to track, the initial hole may heal up, and only signs of swelling, infection and discomfort may be evident. 

Common areas affected:

  1. Between the toes.  The first sign you may see is you dog limping or licking between its toes.  The seed can track up the whole leg if left, causing extensive damage.
  2. In the ear canals.  Dogs are often very uncomfortable with a sudden onset of head shaking, holding their head to the side or pawing at their ear.
  3. Between the eye and the eyelid.  Your dog will generally shut their eye and swelling/discharge may be evident. If left the seed can penetrate the eyeball or track behind the eye, even entering the brain!
  4. In the armpit – hair matting, swelling and pain may be evident.
  5. If swallowed they may penetrate into the tissues of the throat or gum.  Your dog may paw at their mouth, show signs of discomfort and gagging, go off their food or have foul smelling breath. A worse case scenario is if the seed is swallowed and enters into the lung tissue to cause extensive damage with life-threatening abscesses.
  6. In the nose – often they will start to sneeze fairly immediately. These can be hard to locate as the nasal passages are small and hard to access.



If you think that your dog may have a tracking grass seed it is important you visit your vet as soon as possible.  If the seed has only tracked a small distance your vet may be able to remove it with tweezers.  However if your dog is hard to keep still or the seed has tracked further, he/she will need a general anaesthetic to surgically explore the area and find the seed.  This is not always easy as the swelling can be extensive and the seed very small!! I have spent many many hours trying the locate seeds, if only they had tracking devices!  In view of this, prevention is a much better option.



  1. If possible try to prevent your pet running through areas of tall grass that is seeding, especially after a long dry summer.
  2. Clip long haired pets in the summer – especially on the belly, around the ears and between the toes but remember seeds can enter anywhere on the body!
  3. When returning from a walk, groom your dog immediately and check thoroughly for any seeds.  If you find any seeds penetrating through the skin gently remove them with tweezers and ensure the seed is whole – as any small piece present may cause a reaction.