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Dog in a field

Awns: Why They Pose a Danger to Dogs

Avoid tall grasses and fields of cereal crops to protect your dog

21.7.2022

Awns are stiff, sharp bristles that grow from grasses such as cereals (including rye, wheat and barley) and various meadow plants.1, 2, 3, 4 They are equipped with many small barbs pointing backwards, which enable the awns to attach themselves to a dog’s fur and which only allow movement in one direction – inwards, towards the animal’s body. Having anchored themselves to the coat, the awns work their way deeper into the fur every time the dog moves. With their sharp tips, awns are able to puncture the animal’s skin and become lodged there, where they can cause infections, inflammation and abscesses. These foreign bodies can also enter your dog’s body through orifices such as the nose, mouth and ears, resulting in internal injury. For example, they can travel through the gastrointestinal or respiratory tract, where they can cause life-threatening damage.5 They can make their way to an internal organ – for example, entering via the nose and migrating along the trachea (windpipe) – and can ultimately lead to lung collapse.6 In the most extreme cases, this can prove fatal.7

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Found an awn in your dog's fur?

If you find an awn that is snagged in your dog’s fur or that has only partially penetrated the skin, you may be able to remove it yourself (using tweezers if necessary). However, if the awn has already worked its way deeper into the skin, you must take your dog to the vet so it can be removed properly and the necessary medication can be administered (e.g. anti-inflammatory drug, painkiller). If the vet has reason to think an awn is already inside your dog’s body, more extensive veterinary measures will be needed.

Signs to look out for

The telltale signs that your dog has an awn problem will vary depending on where the foreign body is located. 

  • In the ear:
    Your dog scratches their ear (which may be inflamed) and shakes their head. They may hold their head at an angle. Fluid may come out of the ear, and you may notice an unpleasant smell.8, 9, 10
  • In the nose:
    Your dog sneezes repeatedly or has symptoms including nasal secretions, nosebleeds, infection and pain.11 If there is inflammation or swelling in the upper respiratory tract, your dog may also have difficulty breathing.12
  • In the eye:
    If it is lodged in the conjunctival sac of the eye, an awn can cause watery eyes (lacrimation), sensitivity to light and excessive blinking. Your dog may show their discomfort by rubbing the affected eye more than usual.13
  • In the paw (between the toes):
    Your dog licks and bites the affected paw. You may notice a limp. Your dog may also show signs of pain when you examine the paw. If the awn is already buried inside the paw, you may see a small hole where the foreign body entered. You may also see discharge (pus).14
  • In the trachea or lungs:
    If your dog develops a sudden and persistent cough, becomes short of breath or coughs up sputum, then an awn may be the culprit.15, 16, 17

Consequences

The potential consequences for your dog can be extremely serious and even life-threatening.

  • If an awn isn’t removed from the ear in time, it can lead to middle-ear infection, loss of balance and rupture of the eardrum.18, 19
  • An awn in the paw can cause abscesses and infections between the affected toes.
  • If left untreated, awns in the eye can lead to severe corneal damage and, in the worst cases, blindness.20,21, 22
  • Awns can cause infections in the nose. If they travel through the nasal cavities23 to the brain, they can prove fatal.24
  • If left untreated, awns in the trachea or lungs can lead to pneumonia or pneumothorax (a build-up of air between the lungs and the chest wall).25

Preventive measures

Try not to let your dog run through tall grass or beside fields of cereal crops at the height of the awn season. If necessary, keep your dog’s coat and the fur around their paws trimmed short, and brush out their undercoat. If – despite your best efforts – your dog does come into contact with tall grass, keep a close eye out for any of the warning signs listed above. Check your dog thoroughly for awns and remove them immediately.

Conclusion

Although you and your dog may enjoy walking beside a gently swaying cornfield or through tall grass, you should take great care. Awns may be small, but they could put your dog’s life in danger. Being aware of the risks will help you protect your dog during your walks together.

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Source

1 Granne. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.spektrum.de/lexikon/biologie/granne/29186
2
 Grannen (Botanik) aus dem Lexikon | wissen.de. [accessed 2022 Jul 4].   https://www.wissen.de/lexikon/grannen-botanik  3 Süßgräser - Pflanzen in Deutschland. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.pflanzen-deutschland.de  4 Team P. Süßgräser, Poaceae - Steckbrief, Merkmale und Arten. Plantopedia. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.plantopedia.de/pflanzenfamilien/suessgraeser/  5 Beware of Grass Awns! The Pet Hospitals. 2016 Jun 1 [accessed 2022 Jul 11]. https://thepethospitals.com/beware-grass-awns/  6 Grannen beim Hund - Symptome und Tipps zur Vorbeugung. Gesundheitszentrum für Kleintiere. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.gesundheitszentrum-fuer-kleintiere-luedinghausen.de/tierarztblog/artikel/granne-hund.html  7 Grass seeds pose danger to dogs. Cottage Vet Clinic. 2020 [accessed 2022 Jul 5]. 1. Younghusband T. Grass seeds pose danger to dogs. Cottage Vet Clinic. 2020 [accessed 2022 Jul 12]. https://www.cottagevet.co.za/grass-seeds-pose-danger-to-dogs/  8 How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Dog Ear Infections. [accessed 2022 Jul 12]. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/how-treat-and-prevent-dog-ear-infections  9 Awn - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [accessed 2022 Jul 11]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/awn  10 Clinic SA. Ear Infections in Dogs (Canine Otitis Externa) | Sandia Animal Clinic. [accessed 2022 Jul 12].   https://www.sandiaanimalclinic.com/2020/08/01/ear-infections-in-dogs-canine-otitis-externa/  11 Awn - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [accessed 2022 Jul 11]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/awn  12 Foxtail Grass Foreign Body in Domestic Animals. Pet Poison Helpline. 2019 Aug 23 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/foxtail-grass-foreign-body-in-domestic-animals/  13 Awn - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [accessed 2022 Jul 11]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/awn  14 Why are grass seeds dangerous for dogs? Vet Help Direct. 2021 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2021/06/03/why-are-grass-seeds-dangerous-for-dogs/  15 Grannen beim Hund - Symptome und Tipps zur Vorbeugung. Gesundheitszentrum für Kleintiere. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.gesundheitszentrum-fuer-kleintiere-luedinghausen.de/tierarztblog/artikel/granne-hund.html  16 Why are grass seeds dangerous for dogs? Vet Help Direct. 2021 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2021/06/03/why-are-grass-seeds-dangerous-for-dogs/  17 Foxtail Grass Foreign Body in Domestic Animals. Pet Poison Helpline. 2019 Aug 23 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/foxtail-grass-foreign-body-in-domestic-animals/  18 Foxtail Grass Foreign Body in Domestic Animals. Pet Poison Helpline. 2019 Aug 23 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/foxtail-grass-foreign-body-in-domestic-animals/  19 Grannen beim Hund - Symptome und Tipps zur Vorbeugung. Gesundheitszentrum für Kleintiere. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.gesundheitszentrum-fuer-kleintiere-luedinghausen.de/tierarztblog/artikel/granne-hund.html  20 Grass seed in dogs, what to do if seeds are lodged in your dog’s paws, ears or skin? Vets Now. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.vets-now.com/pet-care-advice/grass-seed-in-dog/  21 Grannen beim Hund - Symptome und Tipps zur Vorbeugung. Gesundheitszentrum für Kleintiere. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.gesundheitszentrum-fuer-kleintiere-luedinghausen.de/tierarztblog/artikel/granne-hund.html  22 Why are grass seeds dangerous for dogs? Vet Help Direct. 2021 [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2021/06/03/why-are-grass-seeds-dangerous-for-dogs/  23 Brain Inflammation Due to Parasitic Infection in Dogs. [accessed 2022 Jul 12]. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_encephalitis_secondary_to_parasitic_migration  24 Grannen beim Hund - Symptome und Tipps zur Vorbeugung. Gesundheitszentrum für Kleintiere. [accessed 2022 Jul 4]. https://www.gesundheitszentrum-fuer-kleintiere-luedinghausen.de/tierarztblog/artikel/granne-hund.html  25 Pneumothorax in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital. Vca. [accessed 2022 Jul 12]. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pneumothorax-in-dogs    

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