Vets say grass awns worse, hurting dogs

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) "In my opinion, this has been one of the worst years I have seen."

Veterinarian Mollie Lusk works for Caring Hearts Vet Clinic in Wichita and said she's seen more grass awns in dogs and around town than ever before and it's hurting dogs because it causes infection.

"Last year was a little bad for it but the number of dogs we've already seen makes me very worried," she said.

Grass awns can look like dead grass or weeds because of the beige color but Lusk said they are much more dangerous. They are very common and grow in many yards and fields across Wichita. The grass has barbed tips that come off and get stuck in dogs' paws. They are also sometimes called cheatgrass or cheat seeds.

"When they come off they love to penetrate, especially into dogs pads. They get into their feet and between their toes, right underneath in between the pads and long-haired dogs tend to be more predisposed to problems because that hair just traps it in and because they're barbed, they like to just migrate on through," Lusk said. "We'll see hair loss with a lot of soft swelling. Sometimes we can see a draining tract but frequently not. It'll be painful and the dogs will be licking at it."

Elsie Mack said her one-year-old dog Major must have been in an area full of them because he had dozens in his paws when her husband took him to the vet.

Mack said, "His paw was bleeding here on the outside and he would lick it and we didn't know what was going on. It just kept bleeding and it would heal up and then it would bleed again so we brought him in and the doctor found stickers all in his foot."

The veterinarian had to use local anesthesia to numb Major's paws and probe to get the grass awns out of his paws. They're still a bit swollen and red but Mack said Major is doing much better and she now knows how to check for them.

Checking, Lusk said, is what's most important.

"Just kind of spread the hair and start to look up in between. Frequently they're up much much higher. Up right where the toes come in," Lusk said. "We try to let people know ahead of time and sometimes shaving the paws on those long haired dogs can be helpful especially if you have a hard time getting in there to get them out. But regular checks is the best thing."

Checking paws is something Lusk said she does several times a day at work as well as several times a week to her own dogs at home.

"I would say right now we're probably seeing five to ten percent of dogs that come in have it but I think the numbers will continue to grow," Lusk said. "It's not uncommon for me to pull 20-30 out a couple times a week from them," she said.

Lusk said the season for the grass awns started around two weeks ago and will continue for roughly two more months. She said it's all based on temperature and weather which changes often in Kansas.

Mack said now, she knows to check Major's paws and she's changed the rules on where he can and cannot go.

"We don't let him go in the backyard like we used to. We keep him out in the front yard now to go use the restroom cause a lot of the stickers are out in the backyard," Mack said. If he gets any, she knows how to check and pull them out. She said, "It's still a little tender so sometimes he pulls back but it's a lot better than what it was."

Several people have reached out to Eyewitness News with accounts of their dogs. One person said his hunting dog died from the infection and many others have said their dogs have been in a lot of pain from them too.