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Summertime invokes images of long lazy summer afternoons, the air filled with bird songs, and the soft rustle of grasses swaying in the breeze. Who knew that something as benign as grasses could be so potentially dangerous to your dog? Continuing our summer series, in today’s article I talk about wild grasses, like foxtails (Hordeum Murinum), and the silent and serious threat they can represent to your Husky’s wellbeing.
Why Are Some Wild Grasses Dangerous For Your Husky?
You’ve probably walked passed huge patches of wild grasses growing in ditches or in wild grassland areas. Mother Nature is a brilliant architect because she designs all of her creations to be able to survive and reproduce effectively in their environment.
Wild grasses are designed to produce seeds that when dry, are scattered by wind or carried by animals to new locations where they can carry on their cycle of growth and reproduction. In nature, the drive to reproduce represents survival and some types of grass seeds are designed to survive at all costs. Foxtails and related grasses are one class of plant that perfectly fits this description.
These grasses contain their seeds in the bushy ended head of the grass stalk. As the grass seeds ripen and the plants begin to dry out, these seeds are released for distribution through scattering. What makes some of these grass seeds so dangerous is the overly effective torpedo headed design of the seeds and the razor sharp barbs on them.
The purpose of the one way pointing barbs is to assist with the job of penetrating the soil as soon as the seeds come loose from the pod head and for keeping the seed anchored firmly into the ground while the sprouting and rooting process is taking place. It is this same burrowing action caused by these relentless barbs that can make these grasses so deadly for dogs, especially for the well furred Snow Dogs.
Burrowing Into Your Husky
These spiked seeds are perfectly adapted for powerfully clinging to animals or humans for the purposes of dispersal. The movement of animal causes the one way movement of the seed head via the barbs to burrow deeper and deeper into the fur of the animal.
In shorter haired animals the seeds are more likely to eventually become dislodged and the seed then uses the barbs to continue burrowing its way into the ground. However, in longer furred animals, like double coated Northern Breed Dogs, the ingenious design of the seed to “burrow” can cause these seeds to penetrate an animal’s skin and then further migrate into the soft tissue causing injury, festering infection, or in some rare cases, even the death of the animal.
The reason that these burrowing seeds go far beyond just causing a simple irritation in the animal is due to the tough outer coating of these seeds. This coating does not allow the seed to break down once it is inside the body of your dog. The embedded seed can cause a serious infection or even death if it should go unnoticed and untreated.
These seeds are most likely to embed themselves between the well furred toes of your Husky, and also into ears, nose, mouth, under belly, or even into the genital cavities of your dog. The long fur and double coat of the Husky makes the seeds difficult to spot and even harder to detect if one of these seeds have burrowed their way under the skin of your dog. Quiet often you would not even realize that there was a problem until after symptoms begin to show up in your dog.
Signs And Symptoms Of Seed Embedment
Dogs that have an infected grass seed (awn) penetration site will quite often show signs of being more lethargic than usual, show a loss of appetite, will have painful swellings at the entrance of the wound, and signs of abscess drainage.
Feet or toes: limping, biting or pawing at site of wound. Later you may see an infected oozing lump that is painful and hot to the touch.
Nose, mouth, or lungs: excessive sneezing with discharge, excessive drooling, pawing at head, or breathing difficulties. If a seed enters the lung it can cause a perforated lung or an accumulation of pus in the pleural cavity causing serious illness in your dog.
Ears: violent head shaking, head tilting, or pawing at ears. Later you may see discharge from the ears as seeds can burrow through ear drums and in rare cases can make their way up the ear canal towards the brain.
Eyes: squinting, pawing at face, eyes watering, redness. Later swelling of eyes with infection ensues.
Underbelly and genitals: Pawing, scratching, and licking at the entrance site of the wound. Later an oozing infection and visible lump will occur.
Once a seed has burrowed under the skin of your dog, it nearly always requires a surgical procedure to remove it. It also requires medication to treat the accompanying abscess that usually forms as a result of the embedded seed.
What Can I Do To Protect My Dog?
- The best way to protect your dog is avoid walking through areas of tall wild grasses. Not all grass seeds are barbed and dangerous to your dog but you should definitely find out what varieties of barbed grass seeds are native to your area.
- Eliminate these grasses from your yard. Rake and remove all stalks before they dry and scatter their seeds.
- If your dog has come into contact with these grasses, immediately and thoroughly comb through your dog’s fur paying very careful attention to the underbelly and to the fur between the toes. Removing the grass seeds before they burrow can save you a lot of grief and your dog a lot of pain.
- If you regularly walk through wilderness areas with your dog, consider giving your Husky a Paw-di-cure. Trim the furry areas between the toes to make it harder for barbed seeds to become caught there. Also make sure that you do a thorough foot check on your Husky every time you have been walking through a grassy wilderness area.
- If you are frequently walking through these areas, you may wish to consider investing in a mesh hood for your dog. This hood loosely fits over your dog’s head and protects orifices (ears, nose, eyes, mouth and lungs) from barbed grass seeds. You can also purchase dog boots to protect your dog’s feet from grass seed penetration.
Summer time is for having adventures with your Snow Dog. We do not want to keep them from having fun. We just want to make sure that we keep them safe while they are having fun.
As always we welcome your comments, questions, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories and our wisdom we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.