Grass awns are grass seeds which are sharp, sometimes barbed, and have the capability to burrow into the skin of our dogs. Not only can these burrow into the skin, but these seeds have the capability to burrow through the chest wall and into the body cavity. Here they create large abscesses and a need to drain fluids from the chest cavity. Curing the abscesses and draining the fluids are, however, just treatments of the symptoms. If the seed is not found, death is certain.
The dogs' own movement causes the seeds to be worked into the skin. So, entry points are often in the armpits, groin area, and toes. Having said that, I have just heard of a potential case where the entry seems to be along the spine. Long coated dogs are more susceptible, as the seeds are easier to be trapped here. But again, the case I just heard about is a pointer...a dog with a very short coat.
A good defense is the best offense here. After a field run, give your dog a good brushing or combing. Check the ears, armpits, groin and toes for hitchhiking seeds.
Also, make yourself aware of the symptoms. A good place to start is MeanSeeds; a website set up to track and educate about grass awns. Our vets are awesome caretakers, but they are human and simply cannot remember every possible symptom and illness. Also, keep in mind that dogs who actually roam the fields and forests are fairly rare creatures. Suburban and urban vets just do not have as much exposure to dogs who get out into the fields and are just not as familiar with the unique problems that can arise. So, do yourself a favor and get educated on grass awn symptoms.
Also, at MeanSeeds, there is a list of grass seeds which can cause problems. Learn to recognize these grasses. Good pictures are available at MeanSeeds and elsewhere. Some of the bad grasses are Cheatgrass, Foxtail, Needlegrass, and Canada Wild Rye.
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