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Julie's Pet Grooming

How to Remove Burrs/Stickers, Foxtails and Weeds from Your Pet’s Hair

Taking your pet for a romp at the park or in the forest is always good fun and great exercise. But lying in the great outdoors is a pet and pet owner’s nemesis. No, not parasites and critters this time….. We’re talking about a plant invasion in their fur, namely, burs/stickers, fox tails and weeds. Read below to learn more about these irritants.

Burs/Stickers

Burs are seeds or dried fruit that have hooks or teeth. Burs catch on the fur of passing animals or the clothing of people. The hooks or teeth generally cause irritation, and can cause injury to animals, clothing and can even damage vehicle tires or clog equipment. Since burs have hooks/teeth, they can easily attach themselves to the hair of a passing pet. The hair will wrap around the bur causing the fur to matt. Burs can imbed themselves into the skin creating irritation and possible infection.

Bur Removal

*Tip: Use gloves when removing burrs. Remove as soon as possible.

  • Remove one burr at a time. Trying to remove more than one burr causes the hair to entangle further around itself.
  • Separate as much of the hair as possible from the burr.
  • Use a metal comb to pull the burr away from the hair.
  • For large burrs, use a pair of pliers to crush the spines before combing.
  • If the burr is stubborn, a little vegetable oil can help loosen it.
  • Worst case, the hair may need to be cut off. Ask a professional groomer for tips on cutting your pets hair. Always be careful of their skin.
  • If a burr has embedded itself into the skin, use a pair of tweezers and gently pull straight out. Do not twist or pull at an angle as the spines of the burr can break off and remain in the skin. Use a topical antibacterial ointment or spray for pets to prevent infection. If the skin is inflamed, bleeding, or the pet is in pain, a trip to your local veterinarian is advised.

Fox Tails

A foxtail is a spikelet or spikelet cluster of a grass found mostly in the Western half of the United States. This plant is called a “foxtail” due to the bushy spikes of the grass that resemble the tail of a fox. Each spike of grass have a hardened tip or “callus” and spikes called “retrorse barbs” that point away from the tip of the callus. These spikes attach easily to pet fur and human clothing. As the foxtail attaches to a pets fur, movement causes the foxtail to burrow into the fur, sometimes becoming irreversibly lodged into the skin. Foxtails can also enter the nostrils, ear canals, eyes, and genitals of a pet. Since the body can’t break down the barbs, they can move through soft tissue and organs, resulting in infection and possible death.

Since foxtail seeds are hard to find even after a thorough search of your pet, watch the following signs:

  • Feet: Swelling, redness, limping, constant licking between toes
  • Ears: Head shaking, itching ear, holding head to one side
  • Eyes: Redness, discharge, Swelling, pawing at face
  • Nose: Discharge or incessant sneezing
  • Genitals: Persistant licking of the area or constant sitting

Since these symptoms can also be caused by other unforeseen problems, a visit to your vet is advised.

Foxtail Removal

  • Examine your pet during foxtail season-usually May to December- if your pet exercises anywhere near tall grass.
  • If you see a foxtail, use a pair of tweezers and gently pull them from the hair or skin.
  • If you see redness, swelling, or your pets cries in pain, visit your local vet right away.
  • Foxtails can be life threatening.

Weeds

Some plants have leaves and stems that will have prickles, little spiny fur, or thorns. These leaves will stick to a long-haired dog and wrap itself into the fur and create a matted mess. If the leaf hasn’t created a huge matt yet, there’s hope before cutting it out! Here’s what you can do.

  • Wear gloves as the spines or thorns can puncture skin.
  • Use a leave in conditioner or vegetable oil.
  • Massage the conditioner or vegetable oil around the leaf and the hair it is stuck to.
  • Using a slicker brush and fine tooth comb, gently brush/comb the hair in little sections, starting from the end of the hair and working towards the skin.
  • If the thorns/spines have reached the skin causing a scratch on the skin, cleaning with some peroxide and adding a pet safe antibiotic ointment to the skin will help the skin heal.
  • If the leaf has penetrated the skin or the skin has a large gash that is bleeding or inflamed, a visit to your local veterinarian may be necessary.

Further Reading

The great outdoors is a wonderful and exciting place for your furry friend to romp, but being vigilant daily for little creeper plants and seeds will ensure for a pleasant time.

5 Pet-Friendly Ways to Eliminate Weeds From Your Yard

Weeds are inevitable in the yard and garden. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals marketed to combat them can be harmful to the health of your pets if they are not used carefully. Even so-called environmentally friendly or natural herbicides are capable of injury if used improperly. This is especially a concern if you have a dog that likes to dig and roll in lawns and gardens. But our furry friends can pick up herbicides and other pesticides just by walking through the yard, too. Those substances get on their paws and fur, which they may then lick and get into their bodies while grooming themselves. Here's what you need to know to keep your pets safe while dealing with weeds.

Before you waste time, effort, and money on products that don’t work or that may pose a risk to your pet, put some thought into your level of tolerance for lawn and garden weeds. On one hand, a few lawn weeds aren’t problematic; as long as you work to keep the grass healthy the weeds aren’t likely to take over. Mulching garden beds well and regularly will keep weeds from taking over ornamental plantings. Alternatively, if you have no tolerance for weeds, then you’ll need to think carefully about what methods or chemicals to use in your yard. Here are the best weed control options to consider.

1. Weeding by Hand

The most effective means for eradicating lawn and garden weeds is still removing them by hand. It can be tedious work, but it's the best way to ensure that the root of the weed is gone, as both toxic and non-toxic weed killers might leave it behind to regenerate (dandelions have particularly long roots). There are lots of handy weeding tools on the market that help speed up the process, so if your problem is sporadic weeds popping up, this is one way to handle them without using chemicals. It’s best to think of hand-weeding as an ongoing practice and it’s most effective when begun in spring. In garden beds, weed seedlings can be eradicated by hoeing.

The other primary benefit of weeding by hand is that you can be selective; only the plants that you want to kill will be damaged. Most environmentally-friendly herbicides and weed-killing methods are not selective; they’ll kill or damage any plant they touch.

2. Smothering

Weeds need sunlight to thrive, and if you limit their access to light, they'll die. This is just one reason why the use of garden mulch is such a widespread practice. A thick layer (3-5 inches) of organic mulches such as wood chips or pine needles allows water and air in but keeps sunlight out; soil stays healthy but small weeds and seeds hidden under the mulch do not survive. Spread mulch over garden beds to help mature plants thrive while keeping new weeds at bay. If widespread plant-killing is required (when you’re creating a new garden, for example) opaque plastic sheeting, layers of cardboard, or carpet scraps can be laid over the area where you want to kill all plants. You’ll need to leave it in place 4-6 weeks during the growing season to get the job done. Avoid tilling the soil afterward to prevent buried weed seeds from germinating.

3. Horticultural Vinegar

Vinegar, in a concentrated form for herbicide use, can kill plants that are young and tender. It is non-selective, so it will damage lawns as well as weeds. Keep in mind that it is a strong acid so you must take precautions to avoid getting it on your skin (like wearing garden gloves) or in your eyes or nose, and it must be allowed to dry before your pet walks on treated areas. Read and follow label directions carefully. Horticultural vinegar works well for cracks in the sidewalk or driveway. It only damages the plant tissues that it touches, so it may require repeated applications to destroy established weeds. Although vinegar sounds like an inexpensive solution, the concentrated type that kills weeds can be as expensive as standard commercial herbicides.

Grass Awns In Dogs: A Deadly Summer Danger

Walking through a grassy field in summer with your dog may seem harmless, but there could be deadly grass awns lurking in plain sight. Learn about how this common plant affects dogs, and how to prevent your dog from coming into harm’s way.

You might have noticed that dogs like to eat grass, but did you know that some types of grass can actually be deadly for your furry friend? In particular, we’re talking about grass awns, the summer danger for dogs that unfortunately many dog parents aren’t aware of. To help change that, we’ve gathered all the facts on grass seeds – a.k.a grass awns in dogs – and how they can be dangerous. That way, you can prep for a safe and healthy summer.

Table of contents

What is a grass awn?

Grass awns are the cause of many pet emergencies in summer. These awns find their way inside a dog’s body, where they don’t belong, leading to injury, infection and illness. But what, exactly, is a grass awn?

Grass awns are sharp, stiff, bristle-like structures which grow from the ear or flower of many types of wild grasses and grains, including barley and rye. 1 Awns come in all different shapes and sizes – some are barbed, some are needle-like.

Here’s an example of what a grass awn can look like, courtesy of veterinarian Darragh O’ Hanlon (a.k.a @thetopicalvet).

Other names for grass awns

Due to their large variety, grass awns are called by many names, including:

  • mean seeds
  • foxtails
  • june grass
  • timothy hay
  • cheatgrass
  • downy brome
  • needle grass
  • wild barley
  • spear grass
  • bromegrass

How do grass awns hurt dogs?

The problem with grass awns is that they tend to get into your dog’s fur and eventually skin, causing pain and injury. Grass awns can be inhaled, swallowed and even get under a dog’s skin.

If not removed in time, grass awns can lead to infection and abscesses – that is, yucky pockets of pus – that need to be drained. And it’s good to act fast, because grass awns which have entered a dog’s body can migrate inside there, causing damage to internal organs such as the lungs, brain, stomach and spinal cord. This disrupts normal body functions, and can lead to sickness and even death.

Check out Barney’s story below, a real dog who was wounded and had to take a trip to the vet, all because of a few tiny grass seeds:

Which dogs are most at risk of grass awn injury?

Dogs that spend a lot of time in un-mowed, wild, green areas are most likely to suffer injury from grass awns or foxtails. That puts the following at more risk:

  • sporting dogs
  • field dogs
  • hunting dogs

Grass awn on dog symptoms

Symptoms of grass awns in dogs vary depending on where the awn lands on your dog’s body. Use the chart below to help determine where on your dog the awn might be, based on what symtpoms they’re showing:

Location Signs of Grass Awn in Dogs
Fur / coat – no visible infection or abscess
– matted hair
Inside the ear – scratching/rubbing the ear
– shaking the head
– holding head at a slight angle
In the eye – inflamed eye(s)
– discharge or tears
Nose – sneezing
– pawing or rubbing at the nose
– nasal discharge or drainage
Gums, tongue, mouth or throat – inflammation
– swelling
Between the toes – redness
– swelling
– draining tract
– inability to walk on the affected paw
Lungs or other organs (inhalation or migration) – tiredness
– fever
– weight loss
– shortness of breath
– vomiting
– other signs of sickness

Be on the lookout if your dog seems to lick, scratch, rub, or chew excessively at a certain spot on their body; this could be a sign of a grass awn infection. Also look for redness, inflammation, irritation, and sores with discharge. Take note if your dog seems extra tired, depressed or has a lowered appetite.

If you spot any of these symptoms, it’s best to see your vet immediately.

When is it safe to remove a grass awn from my dog?

If you notice some grass awns on your dog’s fur, remove them as soon as possible. You can remove them by hand, or use a brush to speed things up 2 .

It is generally safe to remove grass awns from your dog yourself, as long as the awns have not got into your dog’s body.

If you notice grass awns have punctured the skin, or are in your dog’s nose for example, it’s best not to remove them yourself but seek a vet’s assistance as soon as possible.

Since awns typically have hooks or barbs at the end of them, removing them yourself could cause them to snap or break. This means that a tiny piece of the awn might remain in your dog’s body, leading to local inflammation and infection. Not to mention, it could travel deeper into the dog’s body and damage internal organs.

It’s best to see a vet immediately if you suspect a grass awn might have penetrated your dog’s skin (or any other body part).

Treatment for grass awns in dogs

Treatment for grass awns in dogs first involves identifying the injury, which is tricky because grass awns can be difficult to spot. At the vet, a thorough physical examination will help to determine the location of the grass awn. X-rays or ultrasound may also be used to locate awns. The goal of treatment is to successfully remove the grass awn and remove or heal any tissue that has been affected. This often involves surgery and antibiotic therapy, not to mention medicine against pain and inflammation 3 .

Prevention for grass awns in dogs

It’s difficult to completely rule out the chances of your dog coming into contact with grass awns. But here are some precautions you can take to avoid having to go to the vet with a grass awn emergency later:

  • Check your dog’s coat and feet regularly; remove any grass seeds as soon as you find them
  • If your dog has a long, shaggy coat, trim their hair (if that’s an option) in summer months
  • Brush or comb your dog immediately after they spend time outdoors
  • When inspecting your dog for awns, double check the toes, ears, and shoulders
  • Trim the fur between your dog’s toes and paw pads (find out how to protect your dog’s feet like a pro)
  • Learn what different types of grass awns look like, and which can be found in your area
  • Keep potentially dangerous weeds out of your yard
  • Avoid grassy fields and paths
  • Walk your dog on a leash
  • Get a Tractive GPS tracker to track your dog in real-time, and know if they wander off into a grassy patch. Live in an area where your dog can roam free? See if your buddy has spent a lot of time in the green in the past few days
  • Use protective gear, such as a vest, in case your dog spends a lot of time outdoors in summer

Summary

Unfortunately, grass awns or grass seeds from various types of plants like barley and wheat can be a serious threat to dogs in summer. Awns are thin, sharp, spiky and barbed extensions of the flower or ear of a grass, designed to latch on to what’s nearby and spread its seeds. When the sharp ends of grass awns penetrate a dog’s body, it can lead to injury, illness, infection and – in extreme cases – death.

To keep your buddy safe, remove grass awns from your dog’s fur whenever you see them. If the awn is in your dog’s nose, or has punctured your dog’s body, take a trip to the vet. Do not attempt to remove the awn yourself, as this could cause it to snap and leave a small bit of it in your dog. This can lead to further issues like infection and inflammation. In the worst case scenario, grass awns in dogs can travel throughout your dog’s body, causing damage to vital organs, and hurting your furry friend’s health.

You can keep your dog safe from grass seeds by walking them on a leash to prevent them from running through grass, or tracking them with a GPS tracker. If they are outdoors often, a vest or other type of protective gear can come in handy. Inspect your dogs for grass awns after they spend time outside, and keep the fur between their toes trimmed.

If you suspect your dog has come in contact with foxtails, mean seeds or any type of grass awn, do not hesitate to seek veterinary assistance.

For more tips on this topic, check out the video below:

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