Health risk of awns: How to protect your dog

Awns: Small, painful and dangerous

Sulzbach/Ts. If discovered too late, they wander unnoticed through the fur and penetrate the skin, and quickly disappear into the ear or nose: caution is advised in the summer months, as this is the awn season. Once the small, often bristly parts of the plant have taken hold, they can not only be extremely painful, but also pose a major health risk to dogs and cats. The animal welfare organization TASSO, which operates Europe's largest free pet register, provides important tips so that pet owners can better protect their four-legged friends from awns and react correctly in an emergency.

Awns are plant particles that can be found on the ears of various types of grain or wild grasses, for example. “Due to their sharp barbs, awns can quickly get caught on the fur of dogs or cats or penetrate the animal through body openings such as the ears, nose or eyes,” says veterinarian Dr. Anette Fach, who works for TASSO. She warns: “If an awn gets into the ear canal, it can cause painful inflammation and damage the eardrum. If an awn is inhaled into the nose while sniffing, it can travel through the respiratory tract to the lungs and destroy lung tissue there if left untreated. In the worst case, an awn can penetrate as far as the brain, which can have fatal consequences for the animal.” If an awn gets stuck in the animal's eye, this usually results in conjunctivitis. In severe cases, it can lead to corneal damage and even blindness in the animal.

The paws of four-legged friends are often affected. A awn can go undetected, especially in dogs with long fur. “The plant parts penetrate the skin between the toes and form purulent abscesses. The awns should be removed immediately in a veterinary practice, otherwise they will continue to migrate upwards through the tissue and cause a lot of damage,” explains Fach.

Minimize the risk of awns
Dog owners can reduce the risk of awns by not letting their four-legged friends run through tall meadows or grain fields. However, awns often detach from the rest of the plant during harvesting and are spread around by the wind. Pet owners should therefore be particularly careful away from meadows and fields and check their dog or cat for plant parts every day. This includes checking the paws, but also the armpits and groin area. Fach also recommends, for example, trimming the fur on the paws a little, especially in long-haired dogs. “Trimming can prevent awns from getting caught in the fur. If dog owners do not feel confident trimming the fur on the pads of the paws themselves, this can be done by the veterinarian,” says Fach.

Pay attention to symptoms and act quickly in an emergency
When the worst happens, it is important that pet owners are able to interpret symptoms caused by awns. These include noticeably frequent sneezing, intense scratching of the eye or ear, constant shaking of the head, licking of the paws or sudden limping. If the dog suddenly shows one of these symptoms during or after a walk or the cat after being outside, pet owners should pay attention and immediately feel their animal for awns. It is important that the awns are discovered and removed in good time. If the awn is only slightly stuck in the skin or fur of the dog or cat, pet owners can try to remove it themselves. However, if the plant particle has already penetrated deeper into the animal's body, the awn should be quickly and professionally removed in a veterinary practice. Depending on the condition of the tissue, other measures may be necessary in addition to removing the awn.