Those @#$%&! grass awns…

Grass awns

Ask any vet about grass awns, and they will likely have one or more incredible stories of where these things can end up in a body.

For those not in the know, a grass awn looks like this (right).

Note the pointy end and the backward-facing parts. These things normally get into the skin (using their sharp pointy end) through the feet, or even through the thin skin of the groin or armpits. Once they’re under the skin, movement of the body helps them move, and the backwards-facing tendrils prevent them from going backwards.

Basically, these little monsters can end up anywhere in the body. There are legendary tales of dogs who got grass awns in their spinal canals (resulting in paralysis) or their brains (resulting in seizures).

Recently, we had one that managed to work its way into a very difficult place to get at.

Little Rocky is a 5-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who had a history of intermittent fevers going back to when he was about 6 months old. Various tests came up with no diagnosis, and frustratingly the fever would just resolve on its own each time.

We got to see Rocky earlier this year, with his recurrent fever and now abdominal discomfort. Blood tests and an ultrasound of the abdomen revealed a large mass near the bladder with evidence of a major infection somewhere.

So off we went to surgery. The mass turned out to be attached to the abdominal wall, underneath the spine. Very gently exploring this mass revealed it to be made of layer upon layer of fibrous tissue, with pus between each layer. Just when we thought we couldn’t go any deeper, we penetrated one final layer and out popped the grass awn. It wasn’t in great condition after 4.5 years, but these things will persist for a very long time.

We flushed the site out copiously, then allowed the now-open abscess to drain into the abdomen.

Rocky made a great recovery and probably feels a lot more comfortable after having his unwelcome passenger removed.

Grass awns. A real pain to find sometimes. Interestingly, CT scans can sometimes pick these up, but even then it’s not always very clear to see.

Paul Eason BVM&S MANZCVS (Surgery; Emergency and Critical Care Medicine)

Grass awns


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