“Spear grass” is a blanket term for any grass with a barbed seed. Although there are around 60 varieties of spear grass the one most commonly found on the south island is Foxtail Barley Grass. Foxtail is found growing on most boulevards (especially around trees and posts), lawns, by the side of the road, in fields and even coming up through cracks in sidewalks. This hardy plant can really make a home anywhere. The plant resembles wheat and, when green, is fairly innocuous. Once dry, through late Spring to early Fall, it hardens and can easily become embedded in anything that comes in contact with it. Many of us have had to pick it out of our socks and clothing after walking through a grassy area.
The seeds will lodge themselves in your dog’s coat, ear canals, eyes, up their nose, underbelly (urethra and vagina) and especially between their toes. These seeds can cause extreme pain and infection and can also travel once embedded. Vets have found seeds in dog’s lungs and in abscessed wounds throughout the body even though the original entry point was between the toes!
To protect your dog inspect any outdoor area your dog is in. Make sure you have a good, consistent recall (come command) so you can call your dog away if you see them sniffing or romping around spear grass. At home cut down any Foxtail as it grows and rake it up afterward. Most important is to thoroughly inspect your dog after leaving an area where you noticed spear grass. Be sure to check in their ears, coat and especially between their toes. If it’s in deep you run the risk of having pieces break off if you try and pull it out yourself. If you find any seeds embedded call your vet immediately for advice. – Jess Thornbury