Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Spear Grass

Last week one of my clients sent her boyfriend in with her dog. She was peeing blood, and by the way, she also had these grass things in her skin. The urinary tract infection was easy enough to diagnose and treat, but the grass awns in her fur were another story. This dog was a samoyed (a fur producing machine) and all in her underbelly were little spear grass awns. You may have played with these things as a kid, throwing them at your friends. They have a barb at the end, sharper and harder to pull out than a fish hook, and then a twisted stalk, so they really screw into the skin. I plucked several from her side that where already imbedded in little pustules. I could also feel several swollen tracts along her belly.

These things are really evil. When I was at school, we treated a labrador field trial champion that had developed a serious pyothorax (infection in the chest) from one of these buggers migrating all the way through her chest wall. She was in the ICU for weeks with chest tubes. There are also reports of them migrating into the spinal cord. Even if they just migrate into the skin, they can cause chronic abcesses.

This Samoyed also was "hind-end sensitive," meaning she would bite you if you touched her back there. I recommended this dog be shaved to remove any visible awns, and that was going to mean sedation. I gave the boyfriend the estimate, and suggested maybe they start the shaving at home and let me finish the job.

My client came back with a half shaved dog. She said she removed tons of awns but knew there were more. The dog would just not let them complete the job. I administered a sedative IV and she sunk to the floor. My technician and I both got a pair of clippers and started shaving. Too bad I'd decided to wear black slacks that day! We removed many more spear grass awns, and I was able to "express" some out of pustules I found. But, there were 4 long skinny cylindrical tracts under the skin that I highly suspected more awns were tunneling through. I recommended to the client that I try to get them out with a local, and she agreed. I told her if she didn't feel comfortable, I could take the dog to the back to work on it, but she preferred to stay with her dog. It worked really well; I made a few stab incisions, and with some digging around, was able to remove the awns.

The fact that I was doing minor surgery in the exam room with the owner present really freaked the staff out. Fortunately, the tech helping me was great, and the nurse supervisor knew I knew what I was doing. We joked about doing "drive thru surgery" but really it wasn't any worse than your dermatologist taking off a mole.

We reversed the sedation and the patient walked out of the exam room. I warned the owner that there may still be more to come, but at least we removed a whole lot of potential problems.

If you see spear grass on your dog, take them off immediately, even if it means losing that beautiful fur! And avoid those fields in the future!


Dad said...

That dog was lucky to find a vet like you .....What about the peeing blood?

Emily said...

Cool case story! I had no idea those grass barbs could cause so much trouble.

Anonymous said...

Are those Spear Grass what we called back in the 50's Indian Grass?? My best friend's brother was a very cruel "person" and once tied myself and my friend Anne up to a pole, we were wearing "mid-rif" tops, what today are referred to as halter-tops, and he and his friend shot these needle-point barbs into our bellies and they hurt like HELL! Fortunately her Mother found us and freed us of this assault but to this day, I remember the pain (both when they entered and when they were removed) and humiliation of this. I think these were not as bad as what your patient experienced but OOH, the things we suffer in life - both human and dog! M

EdamameMommy said...

Hey, yeah, I agree with daddy -- you need to do a part #2 to this story and tell us about the peeing blood part. Did he ingest some and they are tearing up his colon???

Jennifer said...

Hi guys, sorry for the confusion...the peeing blood was the easily diagnosed urinary tract infection (UTI). Actually, it was pretty cool - you could see actual bacteria on the microscope slide. I chose an antibiotic with good distribution to the bladder and skin. By the time she came back for the grooming, the blood was all cleared up.