Grass Awns: A Problem for Dogs

Grass awns are a serious problem for dogs each spring and summer.  These weeds have a point and hairs that point backward, giving them the ability to work their way into a dog’s coat.  Eventually, if not removed, they can work their way into the skin and from there into major organs.  Surgery may be required to remove the grass awn and the resulting abscess.  Some dogs die of infection before the cause of the problem is identified.

Common names for these weeds range from speargrass to foxtail.  All are grasses that are most prevalent in late spring and early summer.  Many pastures and yards have these plants.  Some hay meadows or pastures are planted in rye or other grass crops that produce grass awns.  City dogs are also in danger from these grasses because they can grow in vacant lots or cracks in sidewalks that the dog might brush up against.

Hunting dogs, or dogs that frequently run outside, are the most commonly affected.  The dog either inhales, swallows, or is stuck with the barb of the weed while running.  The weed then continues to work its’ way into the dog and leaves a trail of bacteria in its’ wake.  This problem is so common that there is a web page sponsored by the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association on the problem with case histories and treatment summaries written by both members and veterinarians.  You can find this information at

Dogs with long coats, such as Poodles, are also likely to run into trouble with grass awns.  It is hard to see a weed seed up against the skin when the dog has lots of hair.  It is important to check every inch of the dog when he or she comes in from outside for these seeds.  Common places for them to lodge are between the toes, under the armpits, in the nostril, and in the ears.  If practical, a short kennel clip for the summer makes it easier to prevent such problems.

Prevention is the key to dealing with grass awns.  If you have a lawn, try to treat spear grass and foxtails as soon as you see them.  Use a herbicide rated for perennial grasses.  If possible, avoid training or other activities in fields during the peak grass awn season. If you dog runs through fields or plays where these weeds might be found, go over every inch of the dog’s body when he or she comes back home.  Short-haired dogs are not immune to these seeds, so check them as well.  If your dog starts to act “off” or ill, take the dog to your veterinarian and be sure and ask about grass awn infections.  Know your dog and check them frequently to prevent problems.  Do this and you can avoid most problems associated with grass awns.