Lovely and Dangerous

By Linda McVay CCS CDW

The day was sunny and the field was beautiful, with tall golden grass gracefully dancing in the breeze. My husband and I leashed the dogs and headed out to explore and enjoy this magical scene. The dogs ran and jumped like gazelles while we laughed at their silly antics. Ouch, what the heck is stabbing me in the ankle? I reached down expecting to find an errant blackberry vine and instead, after a little investigating, found a seed head from that same lovely grass that had beckoned us from the road. After an hour or so we called Kuba and Caboose and headed out, but before we could leave for home both of us had so many seeds poking us that we had to remove our socks. I eventually had to throw out both pair because I could not pull out the seed heads.

A day later we noticed Kuba rubbing his right eye. My husband and I both examined him and saw nothing. We cleaned his eye using some veterinarian recommended eye wash and waited to see if the symptoms would diminish, but they did not. The next day he was still rubbing his eye and there was also a slight discharge. I made a vet appointment. It took three vet appointments and two veterinarians to find the foxtail seed (called an awn). The awn had migrated around the eye and had embedded itself in the soft tissue behind his eye. The awn has a sharp point and barbed structure and will travel only forward once it is embedded. Dr. Olson removed the awn and luckily Kuba suffered no ill effects.

It is Foxtail season here in Seattle and pet owners need to be hands on! Vacant lots, dog parks, planting strips, and even our own yards may harbor this nasty little intruder. First, avoid areas that have Foxtails shedding their awns. That lovely golden color on a grass stalk that looks like a skinny wheat head is a giveaway that the Foxtail weed is shedding.

Second, use your hands to go over your dog’s body, feeling for not just the awns but any bumps that may be present. A bump may signal an embedded or abscessed awn that would require immediate veterinary intervention. Check the eyes, ears, paws, nose, throat, and skin of your dog; these are all areas that are susceptible to this pretty but potentially dangerous threat. Third, remove and eradicate Foxtails from your yard and planting strips. City budget cuts have affected park maintenance, including the removal of noxious weeds. Bring your garden gloves when you go for a walk at your favorite park and be proactive.


Head shaking, constant rubbing or scratching of the ear area, or tilting of the head may be signs that a foreign body has entered the ear.
An awn entering the ear can result in ear irritation, abscesses and infections that may result in damage to the ear or ear canal and in some cases cause deafness.

Look for discharge, irritation, not opening the eye or squinting, and/or constant rubbing of the eye. Results of a Foxtail in the eye can include a corneal scratch, ulcers, conjunctivitis, and even blindness.

Dry hacking cough, gagging, not being comfortable eating or drinking or refusing to eat or drink---any or all of these symptoms may present themselves when a grass seed is lodged in the throat. The awn may damage the tongue or a periodontal pocket or possibly lodge in a lung.

A bump may appear and you may see a small entry hole in the center. Your dog may become obsessed with licking a small area. The risk involved can be anything from irritation, abscess, and in severe cases migration thru the skin and entrance into the body cavity. If the awn enters the body cavity it can cause serious harm to vital organs.

Repeated rubbing of the face, nose bleeds or repetitive sneezing are indicators that something may be lodged in the nasal cavity. Irritation, infection, and migration causing tissue infection can occur. In some cases migration can result in seizures and an abscess on the brain, which can be fatal.

Licking, chewing, or pulling out fur between the pads are all signs that you need to take a look. Bumps or small holes need to be carefully examined for awns.
Infection, abscess, and migration are common.

Have your hands on your dog's body and examine gently after your walking adventures. My husband and I are ever-vigilant for Foxtails. We were very lucky that Dr. Olson was persistent and hunted until he found that tiny embedded awn in Kuba’s eye. My childhood poodle, Rodney, was not so lucky; He inhaled a Foxtail awn which migrated from his nose and eventually resulted in a brain abscess and his death. I’m always preaching about being proactive because I have seen and felt the consequences of simply seeing the beauty and not being aware of the danger.