Barley grass

Every summer we see dogs which have fallen victim to the dreaded barley grass. They are a common problem in dogs such as Spaniels with long coats, however any breed can be affected.

Two common places we remove seeds from are in and around the paws and down the ear canal. Licking at feet or shaking heads are two classic signs to watch out for, your dog may not have a barley grass, but it is better safe than sorry so get your dog checked by your Vetlife vet.

The reason barley grasses are so dangerous is due to their design. Backwards facing barbs enable the seeds to easily migrate forwards while at the same time preventing them from backing out. Their ability to migrate means removing a seed that entered at the paw may require surgery to explore further up the leg. A barley grass in the ear canal can rupture the ear drum, in the eye they can cause nasty ulcers and a grass seed that migrates could end up in the abdomen, chest cavity or even brain.

Your Vetlife vet will examine your dog carefully and may be able to remove obvious barley grass seeds without any sedation. If the seed has embedded itself or has started to migrate, sedation or even a full general anaesthetic may be required to remove it. These more complicated cases where a barley grass has “disappeared” from the skin’s surface can be very frustrating for an owner, especially if the vet is not able to find an intact seed. Once a seed has been inside the body for a couple of days it slowly starts to disintegrate meaning retrieving it intact becomes difficult. Flushing out the tract it followed and giving your pet antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can make your pet much more comfortable and reduce the impact that the barley grass has on their system.

If your dog likes to run through long grasses over summer be aware of the risks of barley grasses and check their feet and coat after each walk. Grooming long-haired breeds and keeping the coat especially short around the paws can help to prevent seeds from catching on. If your pet seems “off-colour” or not acting themselves, they are licking at a particular area or you see an entry wound that is oozing, please bring them down to your Vetlife vet, as a barley grass may be the culprit.

Jess McDowell, BVSc

Vetlife Oamaru