When dogs hit the field, they are focused and driven by a natural desire to find game, and often work through injury with little or no outward sign of something bothering them. It is our responsibility as handlers to check for any lacerations, sore muscles, torn paw pads, etc. and treat them immediately.
Along with obvious open wounds, there are other hidden dangers that could affect our bird dogs that we must be vigilant of—the grass awn.
The Barbed Plant Seed
An awn goes by many names including foxtails, cheat grass, mean seeds, and more. An awn is an appendage that grows from the ear of plants such as barley, rye, and many types of wild-growing grasses. This part of the plant is a hairy and bristle-like casing around the actual seed—which means it poses a large risk to your bird dog.
The sharp ends of the awn allow them to penetrate the skin of your dog, become lodged in ears, as well as the possibility of being inhaled through the nose, or ingested, as your dog runs through thick cover. Usually, the initial wound will heal, and you’ll never know there was a wound. However, the awns of the most problematic grasses are barbed, which allows the awn to embed in the skin and travel through body tissue. This barbed seed can enter the body cavity and end up in the lungs, spinal cord, abdominal organs, or brain. Migrating awns can carry an infection and cause inflammation, typically in the form of an abscess.
Foxtail awns, for example are more commonly acquired through the skin, generally in the feet, ears, or nose. Thus, a careful inspection of the dog after leaving the field may allow removal of awns and avert any illness.
Recognizing An Infection
A major problem of a grass-awn infection is that symptoms can be subtle until the dog is seriously ill. Knowing your dog, and recognizing when he or she is “just a little off,” is one of the best protections you can offer.
Regularly check your dog for swellings, particularly at the lower rear sections of the ribcage, a prime site for abscess development. As time passes, the dog may cough, show a loss of stamina, and in a more advanced case involving an infection in the chest and/or lungs, may show difficulty breathing.
A cough, draining wound, or elevated temperature in any field dog, at any time of the year, requires a trip to your veterinarian.
The Tailgate Inspection
The tailgate of a pickup is the perfect spot to do a post-hunt inspection, giving your pup a once-over from nose to tail. A tailgate inspection involves elevating your dog, so you’re able to easily move your hands over the entire body while visually checking them.
This examination should include:
- Checking the eyes to make sure they’re clear and free of debris.
- Checking the inside of the mouth and nose for puncture wounds, or the presence of grass awns.
- A close inspection of footpads for problems. Be sure to spread toes for a clear view of all areas between the toes.
- Checking the chest, underbelly, and flank for cuts, skin tears, bruises, grass awns, or punctures.
- Inspect the ears for debris or cuts.
During the tailgate inspection, any sign of pain or tenderness by your dog pulling away can be an indication of soft-tissue injury, or a closed wound. If any of these indications persist, have your veterinarian take a look.