It's that time of year where the evenings are long and hopefully the weather is sunny and warm. What better way to spend the evening than taking a long walk through the parks and fields with our canine companions.
However, this time of year coincides with both the ticks that we previously mentioned and also grasses going to seed. Whilst this often looks pretty, with the grasses getting longer and a variety of seed types starting to fall, many dogs fall foul of the potential risk of getting seeds stuck where they shouldn’t!
The nature of the seed in many grasses is such that they are barbed, meaning that when they come into contact with skin or soft tissue, they can effectively burrow into deeper structures. From a veterinary point of view, swellings, and lameness in the lower parts of the body in particular, and at this time of year, can often signal an indwelling grass seed! Often dogs will need to be sedated or even given a general anaesthetic to investigate the swelling or area of discomfort, with grass seeds often removed entire from the affected areas.
In worst case scenarios, these foreign objects can lead to severe inflammation and infection and even track to the strangest of locations including the inner ear and chest cavity. In my role as a pathologist, I often see biopsies of locations on our pets that may be either possible tumours or inflammation and it is my job to try and ascertain this under the microscope.
At this time of the year, the numbers of masses that get sent after general anaesthesia and surgery increase as we see more and more inflammatory lesions within the skin and soft tissues. A typically pattern of inflammation often leads us to believe that these could be grass seed foreign bodies and if we are lucky, we can even visualise the seed, within the tissue causing inflammation and infection. One such case is shown below where the mammary gland of a dog has severe inflammation and the biopsy submitted by the vet, shows a central grass seed in cross section, with lots of little bacteria around it and the body trying to fight it away with masses of inflammation!
FIGURE 1. Common grass seeds showing the barbed appearance. This often leads to migration of the seed in one direction into skin and soft tissues. (CREDIT: https://www.vassevets.com.au/pet-resources/grass-seeds-recognise-problem-help-get-treatment-pet/)
FIGURE 2: Grass seed and plant structures within mammary tissue of a dog on a recent biopsy with extensive inflammation in the surrounding tissue. (Credit: Dr Marvin Firth, Nationwide Laboratories)
So, I would recommend that if you are out walking your dog and notice that there is long grass and grass seeds around, make sure to try and brush them down (all over!) at the end of the walk and check their ears and paw pads to prevent these seeds from getting stuck and migrating where they shouldn’t! Keeping the coat slightly shorter all over may also help in both the initial seed getting stuck, but also us noticing them too.
Dr Marvin J. Firth BVSc (Hons.) DipRCPath, DipFMS, AFHEA, MRSB, MRCVS is a veterinary surgeon and pathologist and is an ambassador for the Innocent Hound, along with his parson’s terrier, Rye.
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