Winter is finally starting to wind down, day light is starting to linger past 5pm and the sun is shining through those dreary clouds and this can only mean one thing! Spring time! And when spring hits, grass seed season begins and as dog handlers, we need to be ready.
As soon as grasses start to warm up and emerge from their dormant state, the first thing they do is shoot out multiple stems with multiple seed heads. The seed heads quickly mature and then the seeds are released. The barbed seeds are designed to catch onto the fur of a passing animal so they can travel and then land somewhere else in order to germinate and grow. Most of our Australian grasses are adapted to our native animals and the ground dwellers are usually short flat coated species; think about Wombats, Kangaroos, Dingoes, Bandicoots, etc. This means the seed might catch onto their fur but will also easily fall off a short time later.
Now let’s take a closer look at our dogs and look at their fur. Most of the popular breeds now are the non shedding breeds, so their fur is curly, wavy, thick or wiry, and runs from their nose to their toes! Breeds such a Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles, Cavoodles, Poodles, Groodles, long haired German Shepherds, Lagottos, Maltese and their crosses, Cavaliers and their crosses, etc, all have coats that makes seed catching and adhering so easy. The seed practically has no chance of falling off and this is where the problem lies.
If a grass seed cannot fall off easily, the pointy barbed ends will begin to embed itself and the only direction it moves in is forward. For many dogs, this can become an absolute disaster and for some dogs, life threatening.
The humble grass seed costs handlers thousands of dollars in veterinary bills each year and with the rise in non shedding breeds, this cost is about to blow out to epic proportions.
If you have an Oodle of any kind or own a dog with a bit of coat, toe fluff, scruff, or has a shaggy hairdo, pants, skirts or wiry hairdo, please read on as this blog applies to you and may help prevent horrific outcomes from the grass seed!
And please don’t think that those with short haired dogs are immune to this problem as dogs with shorter coats can also sometimes sucumb to grass seed issues. Whilest they may be a lot less prevalent, it does occur so these dogs too need a regular going over. The only breed of dog that would not need to read this blog, would be the Mexican Hairless and any hairless breed!
Let’s have a look at some preventative options.
Invest in a good groomer
If you have any breed with a thick coat or non shedding coat, then your groomer will play an integral role. Ensure your dog is professionally groomed at least every four to six weeks throughout the spring period or until the grass seed season comes to an end. Not only will your groomer keep your dog looking neat and tidy, they will be able to detect those seeds more easily as they comb through that coat. Your groomer can remove them promptly if they spot any.
Keep those non shedding coats shorter over the spring and summer period to reduce how much coat is dangling to catch the seeds to begin with. Keep the skirts and pants a bit shorter and tidy up the fluff between the feet.
Talk to your groomer also about what tools are best to use to comb through your dog’s particular coat on a daily basis as this will be your maintenance role which is just as important as their professional groom.
Avoid buying tools from pet stores or online stores unless they have been suggested by your groomer. This is the groomer’s forte and they know how each coat works and what is best. They will be more than happy to provide suggestions, it makes their job easier in the long run as there is nothing more distressing for a groomer than clipping off a dog coat that is riddled with grass seeds underneath and knowing the discomfort that animal was in.
Once you have found the groomer that clicks with both you and your dog, stick with them and rebook at the end of each groom so your dog does not go for extended periods without being seen. Make it good habit to keep grooming as part of your regular routine.
Inspect your dog thoroughly
In our classes, we spend a lot of time focusing on handling, checking body parts, teaching the dog to remain still and calm as we run our hands over them. Encourage your dog to either remain standing or lying flat on their side, nice and relaxed as you do the body check.
This is especially important when it comes to grass seed season and you need to ensure you are not rushing through this inspection process. Missing one grass seed can become such an issue as the following day it will be gone and when I say gone, it will have migrated through the fur and embeded underneath the skin.
As a routine, inspect your dog at least once a day, preferably every morning and evening, paying particular attention to the feet, ears, groin, axilla (dog armpit) and underneath the tail. These are the areas that grass seeds can disappear into quickly because of the skin folds and hair.
Check between each and every toe, slowly and carefully. Run your fingers through and around each pad, feeling for any prickles, bits of debris, swelling, etc. If you see any grass seends or prickles, gently remove them. You can see why it is so important to teach your dog to remain still and calm during a body inspection, as their movement could cause you to miss finding the seeds.
Look for any signs of a draining sinus, which can look like a little swelling or a tiny hole with a little bit of blood or serum leaking out of it. A draining sinus can often be seen between toes where the toe joins the foot. If you see any sign of this, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible as there is a high chance that grass seed has already made its way inside the foot. These sinuses usually require surgery to open up the channel that the seed has created and they need vigorous flushing to remove any bits of the seed or the body will continue to create a reaction in order to attempt flushing it out naturally.
Once you have checked the feet, move onto the ears, folding them outwards and check in the grooves and folds for any signs of seeds. If they are at the surface or in the fur, gently remove them but if you can see one further down the ear canal, leave it there and head to your vet to have it removed with the right tools. Sometimes your dog may need to be sedated to do this as poking forceps down an ear canal can be quite unpleasant and scary and the last thing we want is for that seed to head towards the ear drum.
If you notice your dog is shaking its head a lot during the spring period, there is a chance a grass seed has already made its way all the way down. It would feel like a bug in your ear, annoying and irritating and shaking will not draw it out as unlike our straight ear canals, their ear canal is shaped like a L shape. Your vet will be able to see the grass seed with the right tool and remove it accordingly, again, most likely under sedation.
Once you have inspected the ears, move onto the tail and in particular, underneath the tail and around their bottom. Grass seeds have an uncanny way of getting caught in the tail hair or working their way up to their pants and into the back of the legs. Run your hands down the tail, through the coat of the tail, check along the base very carefully, top and bottom. Again if you see a grass seed, gently remove it.
Now run your hands underneath the groin area, feeling for any signs of grass seeds or debris and gently remove it. If you can feel a swelling, take a better look and see whether it might need a vet examination.
From there you can move to the axilla and again feel for signs of grass seeds and ensure you feel right up into those deep pit pockets. Then work your way through the skirt and pants – this is the fluffy part from the sides and under the belly and back of the legs.
If your dog is wriggly through this process, look at Lickimats or stuffed kongs as this can occupy their mouth while you do your inspection. Smearing cream cheese, Xylitol free peanut butter, yoghurt or cottage cheese can be a game changer and if you don’t have a Lickimat, you can simply just smear it on the floor!
For younger dogs, break the checks down to smaller stages as it will be too long to do a full body check in one go but with time and practice, it gets quicker and easier and the dog will become more tolerant and patient.
Where are these grass seeds found?
One way of avoiding grass seeds it to keep your dog out of long grasses to begin with. Keep gardens tidy, trim the grasses just before they seed and avoid allowing your garden to become overrun with weeds.
On walks, most grass seeds are on weedy grasses growing along the sidewalks and beside tracks down at the local park. Try to stick to a path, a well marked path of concrete or gravel, or sand or mulch, and steer clear of grassy edges unless it is super short grass.
Pick the time to walk your dog in a park when the lawns have just been mowed as all the seed heads would have been lopped off.
I would avoid letting a hairy dog run off leash in grassy paddocks as your dog will be like velcro, with every seed imagineable sticking to that coat and will take up hours of your time to pick them all out one by one.
And for those of you considering running out the door to buy artificial turf so you don’t get grass seeds, think again as this comes with other issues. Besides becoming a rather barren setting in your backyard, artificial turf can become dangerously hot underfoot during the warm months and can burn the pads of your dogs when they step on it. There is also the issue with smell as in the warmer months, the smell of urine can become quite unbearable.
There are plenty of lawns you can grow that do not seed, they grow runners instead. These types of lawns are very hardy, they repair themselves and are easy to maintain so before you think about ripping up your garden, weigh up all your pros and cons. And consider visiting someone in the summer that already has artifical turf in their backyard and has a dog. Feel it with your bare feet in the peak of the hot day and have a good smell before making a decision.
If you do have a breed of dog that is prone to grass seeds attaching, I would suggest looking into pet insurance. Some of you may have already experienced this and know full well how costly it can be to repair the damage an embeded grass seed can do. Some dogs require multiple surgeries as those seeds have dissolved into such tiny particles that they are barely visible to the naked eye, yet continue to create a foreign body reaction in the tissue, not to mention lots of scarring.
If you are considering pet insurance, read their policies to ensure they cover this surgery. Some companies have restrictions of certain services on certain breeds so read the fine print to be on the safe side or call the company and ask them. The last thing about pet insurance is to ensure you join BEFORE your dog has a grass seed complication as this could potentially be deemed as a pre-existing condition.
Clothing and shoes for dogs
As a last resort, there is one more option, and it would be apparel to reduce seeds accessing the fur. There are companies making onesies and surgery recovery body suits that cover the entire body except the head. Now this is pretty extreme and I am not suggesting everyone with a Cavoodle, Lagotto, Labradoodle, or the likes, runs off to the shops to buy one but, if you are finding it increasingly impossible to prevent the problem, or you have already dealt with it more times than not, then these body suits can be an alternative.
You might need to be prepared for some odd looks and comments and no doubt other dogs will find them peculiar, but it might save you from picking out multiple seeds after each walk. And we also need to ensure your dog is comfortable wearing such a thing so if you are considering body suits, go slow with the dressing up process.
Boots also can be handy if you are in a grassy area and might prevent the seed from jamming between the toes. You still need to remain disciplined and inspect the feet irrespectively, but it might reduce the grooming load.
So hopefully you have some ideas now on how to prepare for the grass seed season.
Be ready, be vigilant and good luck this spring!