Spear grass is a type of wild grass is commonly found throughout the region. It starts growing in the early spring, but by late May/early June, it dries out and exfoliates its barbed seeds. These seeds (or grass awns) easily penetrate the skin of passing animals, and commonly lead to foreign body reactions and infections between the toes, in the ears, eyes, mouth and even up the nose!
During the summer months, we commonly see pets with interdigital swellings (often with dogs licking/chewing at one of their feet), sudden-onset ear discomfort, sudden sneezing or pawing at the nose, or abscesses of the skin. Most times heavy sedation is needed to explore the affected areas, and antibiotics are commonly needed for secondary infections that result from the seed pods embedding within the skin. Spear grass seeds in the nostrils may require rhinoscopy to fully identify and remove, generally requiring a specialist referral.
It is important to try to avoid areas where dried spear grass is flourishing, and be sure to check your dog after a walk or a hike – especially between the toes – for any evidence of the barbed seed pods. If these are removed before they penetrate the skin, problems can often be prevented.
Sarah McTavish, DVM