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“Mean seeds” refers to foxtails or any number of plants, including Canada wild rye and cheatgrass, that have barbed grass awns or seed heads. Dogs may pick up a grass awn on an ear, eye, mouth, nose, or between their toes – and an awn can even burrow directly into their skin.
These plants and seeds can be particularly dangerous, causing pneumonia if the dog inhales them. The shape of the barbs allows the seed to continuously move forward, traveling inside the dog from the nose to the brain or into a lung, and spreading bacteria that cause infections.
Grass-awn disease is a growing problem among hunting dogs, but any dog can come in contact with these plants when running or walking through tall grass because they are quite widespread throughout North America, especially from May through December. Dogs with long ears and coats may be more likely to pick up the barbs.
Embedded foxtails are painful. Your dog may have an embedded foxtail or similar barbed awn if you see these symptoms:
- Swelling between the toes, limping, or licking one area of the foot
- Scratching at an ear and/or head shaking and tilting
- Pawing at an eye that is red, swollen, or has a discharge
- Frequent sneezing and nasal discharge, as well as repetitive coughing
- Persistent licking of the genitals
Preventing Problems From Foxtails and Other Barbed Awns
- Keep your yard clear of foxtails and other tall grasses.
- Trim your dog’s hair during foxtail season.
- Avoid taking your dog to areas or hiking trails where you see foxtails or any overgrown fields of tall grasses.
- If you do walk through any area where foxtails are growing, check your dog for visible seeds, especially between the toes. Run a fine-toothed comb through their coat and look for awns in their fur. Also check their ears, face, and mouth. Remove any barbed awns before they start to burrow with a brush or tweezers.
- If the awn is embedded and surrounded by red and swollen skin, take the dog to your veterinarian.
- If your dog starts to exhibit strange symptoms of illness, especially sneezing or breathing problems, see your veterinarian right away. Mention that you’ve been in a place where foxtails were growing.
- If there’s a strong chance you won’t be able to avoid locations where foxtails grow when you’re out hiking or hunting with your dog, consider covering their paws with dog booties.