Barley grass in the dog: why is it dangerous and what are the signs if it has burrowed under the skin?

Rácz Brigitta

2020. August 20

It may seem like an insignificant little thing, but unfortunately it can cause the death of your dog if you don't notice the stump in its body in time. But how can you prevent the problem and what symptoms should you look out for?


From spring to late autumn, wheatgrass, or more commonly known as toadflax, is a common weed in gardens, roadsides, woods, fields and neglected urban areas. The plant starts growing in late winter or early spring. Before flowering, when still bright green and tender, it is not a problem and many dogs find it irresistible to chew.

Green mousetraps are harmless and are eagerly chewed by dogs.

It becomes a serious enemy when it matures, usually in July and August, when the flower heads turn yellow. During this period, the dried, hard, arrow-like tegument that protects the mouse-ear fruit breaks apart, detaches from the stem and, because of its special structure, can easily bite into the skin or other body parts of the four-legged animal. Once attached, its streamlined, pointed tip shape allows the dog to bore deeper and deeper into the skin, gums, ears, eyes, between the toes and other body surfaces at extraordinary speeds as it moves.

Why is so dangerous?

Mostly because of its insidious nature, as it is almost impossible to spot if caught. The pointed end of the hard-guarded hair makes it behave like an arrowhead. It can’t move in any direction other than inwards, so once it’s attached to the skin, it penetrates deeper and deeper, eventually beginning its migration through the dog’s body, causing severe inflammation and other health problems. Often even experienced vets have difficulty finding it once it has got under the skin.

The tocolas can only move inwards. Once stuck in the skin, it quickly bores deeper and deeper.

The three most common sources of danger are that the dog may sniff it up and get it in its nose, possibly sticking to its ears, or finding an ideal insertion point between the toes on its paws. However, it is important to know that it can latch onto virtually any part of the body with a brief contact. Short-haired dogs are just as dangerous as their furry counterparts. In their case, they can hide in fine folds such as the armpits, rectum or foreskin and burrow under the skin.

How can the problem be prevented?

Avoid infested areas when walking, and in the garden, it’s a good idea to eradicate while it’s still green and immature. However, this plant is a real survivor and can pop up anywhere, even in an asphalt ditch. So indeed, caution is essential.

It is yellowed, that is, it is already ripe and hard in the grass.

If you have a dog with long, thick fur, take it to a regular groomer in the summer and trim it as short as the breed will allow. It’s a good idea to wear socks if there’s a rampant tantrum in the area. In fact, for pets with floppy ears, it’s a good idea to put stockings over their ears and tie them back when they’re in bloom.

Most importantly, however, keep an eye out for yellowing or even clipped but mature awn on walks, which can easily get caught in your pet’s fur and coat. Do not let your dog sniff or look in these places.

When you get home, immediately comb your four-legged friend – especially where the fur is longer – and then gently stroke his body, checking for wrinkles such as under the armpits, inner thighs, ears, paws, tail, rectum and under the genitals. If you bury your head in the grass a lot, also wipe your gums and cheeks for hidden seeds. If you’re lucky, you just have to pull it out of its fur and comb it out.

Alongside the bright green toadflax, you can already see the dangerous, hardened yellow fruit.

If you’re on a long walk and you find a awn in its skin, don’t try to get it out. There is a risk that the hard fibres sticking out will cause the subcutaneous part of the towhead to tear, which will do more harm than good. The remaining part will bore further into the dog’s body, causing more trouble. Don’t panic, get to a vet as soon as possible to have the intruder removed professionally and safely.

What are the signs ?

A number of symptoms can indicate the presence of an unwanted plant. Compulsive behaviour, such as scratching, licking in certain areas, constant head rubbing, but also deteriorating balance or bleeding can indicate the presence of tocolase.

Symptoms of paw injury

n most cases, the toenail is hidden between the toes. If your pet keeps licking and rubbing his paw after a walk, pulls his leg up, or suddenly starts limping, check the irritated area thoroughly. A small spot, puncture mark, and later a pus-filled area may indicate an ingrown. If you have good reason to be suspicious, don’t let your pet lick his feet under any circumstances, as this can make the situation worse. This is because strong tongue thrusts will break up the inflammation in the tissues, making it difficult for the vet to find the focus and potentially problematic to remove. If your dog finds the condition unbearable, apply Betadine solution to the sensitive area and then put socks on him while you take him to the doctor.

Symptoms of ear injury

In dogs with droopy ears, it is also common for the already attached earlobe to move towards the ear canal. If after a walk or a walk in the garden the dog is constantly shaking its head or holding it on one side, scratching compulsively, rubbing its ears, or reacting with pain or irritation to touch around the ear can be an indication of the presence of aggressive crops under the skin. Also, if the dog is rubbing its head against the ground or showing signs of deteriorating balance.

Be sure to have any removed by a vet and do not experiment with it in any form at home. The removed by a specialist using anaesthetic surgery. You can watch the video below to see exactly what the ear canal procedure looks like.

Symptoms of eye and nose injury

If the plant is in the eye or nose, the dog will immediately and conspicuously indicate this. The eyes are extremely irritated by the tochiasis, which causes the animal to feel intense pain, squint and rub its eyes. Later, the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, red and swollen, with a large amount of mucus covering its surface. In this case, it is also advisable to seek immediate veterinary advice to prevent the dog from causing further serious corneal damage. The presence of nasally aspirated tocolase may be indicated by compulsive sneezing, sudden sneezing and a constant runny nose, which may become purulent and bloody over time.

Symptoms of genital trauma

The genitals may also be affected. If the dog is frequently licking, and is passing bloody, sometimes purulent, discharge, or urinating blood, and is in severe pain, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. In male dogs, the same symptoms are seen with an ingrown toclasis. In addition to the constant whining, the compulsive licking of the and the discharge of blood or pus may also be a warning sign.
If the plant has been in the eye or nose, it will be immediately and conspicuously indicated by the dog. The eye is extremely irritated, and the animal feels intense pain, squints and rubs its eyes. Later, the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, red and swollen, with a large amount of mucus covering its surface. In this case too, it is advisable to seek immediate veterinary advice to avoid further serious corneal damage. The presence of nasally aspirated awn may be indicated by compulsive sneezing, sudden sneezing and a constant runny nose, which may become purulent and bloody over time.

The anus is also a common vulnerable area, especially if the dog has stink gland problems. In such cases, a full gland can cause the dog to sled frequently, i.e. rub its bottom against the ground, and the poo can easily get stuck in it. In addition to the constant licking of the anus, swelling and reddening of the stink gland, bleeding, suppuration and discharge may also be signs of injury.

(Photos by Brigitta Rácz, cover image by Getty Images Hungary)

awn dog diseases Health scratching symptoms of the disease

Related articles

More articles