In botany, an awn is either a hair-like or bristle-like appendage structure. Why should pet parents be concerned about plant awns? Plant awns can easily become tangled in a dog’s fur simply during a walk outside in a grassy area. Once lodged between the pet’s ears or toes, the awn’s needle-like elements can easily penetrate the pet’s skin, setting the stage for great discomfort and infection.
The most common plant awns are foxtails and grass seeds. Once penetration is made through the skin, not only is there cause for infection, but a further risk that the awn will migrate into deep tissue. The pet will then certainly experience pain and discomfort.
In this situation, a dog will present with a painful foot, and upon close inspection, we will find a small area of swelling or a small puncture wound is located in the space between the pet’s toes.
If the plant awn has invaded the pet’s ear, you might notice your pet shaking his/her head excessively or walking with their head to one side. A call to your veterinarian is in order, as he/she can determine the degree of infection by a thorough examination and prescribe treatment.
Prevention is key
It’s important to thoroughly check your dog’s ears, coat and feet after every walk in the park or outdoor grassy area. Breeds with particularly furry feet will benefit from regular grooming to trim their coats, especially during the summer months. If there is any sign of swelling or discomfort, contact your veterinarian for an examination and treatment.
Case Study: Mia Bell
Dr. Simon saw Mia Bell, a 2 year old female spayed Morkie, at Belle Mead Animal Hospital in the beginning of January, 2015 for a chronic problem with her paw. For over a month, Mia Bell had an irritation on her paw that was unresponsive to anti-histamines, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.
Her problem started with a very acute history of her limping profoundly, and then she developed a red swelling between the digits of her front paw. By the time Dr. Simon saw her, she had a small open wound where that initial red spot was located, and then a much more significant, painful swelling had developed higher up on her digit.
Dr. Simon suggested surgically exploring the area after aspirating a very small amount of pus. A sharp piece of plant material was found in the swelling and removed. It turned out that the initial red spot which was noted on Mia Bell’s paw a month earlier was where the plant material had initially pierced her skin. The awn started traveling up her paw, carrying infection with it.
Once the plant foreign body was removed and the area was cleaned and flushed, it was kept open for a few days to allow drainage. Mia Bell immediately felt better, and within a week the wound and swelling on the paw was completely resolved!
If you suspect your pet may be suffering from a similar condition, please call your veterinarian for a thorough examination.
Dr. Heather Simon, VMD, Belle Mead Animal Hospital