Potentially Dangerous Mean Seed Disease Could be Lurking in Fall Fields

The sound of crinkling leaves underfoot signals the start of upland bird hunting and fall field trials, a favorite time of year for many sporting dog enthusiasts.
Unseen dangers may be lurking in these fields in the form of bacteria-carrying barbed grass seeds that can potentially cause a life-threatening condition in sporting dogs known as grass awn migration, or mean seed disease.
William K. Lauenroth, Ph.D., professor of botany at the University of Wyoming, has been studying grass awn migration disease to determine whether it is more common due to the presence of grasses with barbed awns in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.
The disease occurs when harmful grass seeds enter through a dog’s nose or mouth or snag the coat and burrow through the skin. These seeds can migrate through the soft tissues of the body, leaving infection behind. Mean seed disease is challenging to treat partly because a dog often does not show signs until the disease is advanced.
The research involves analyzing USDA data from 10 states to identify problem grasses in CRP mixes. The goal is to establish a comprehensive list of problem seeds. Among the barbed grass seeds known to be potentially harmful to dogs are cheatgrass, Canada wild rye, Virginia wild rye, and foxtail barley.
Among the 10 Midwestern states included in the study, there were 11.5 million acres of CRP ground. “Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota had the most extensive plantings of the two wild rye species of concern to dogs,” says Lauenroth. “South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas had the smallest numbers of these plantings.”
Lauenroth interviewed representatives of eight Midwestern veterinary teaching hospitals to learn about the frequency of grass awn disease over the past two decades. He discovered that grass awn migration disease is very difficult to diagnose with certainty.
Sponsors of this research include: the AKC Humane Fund, the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA), the ESSFTA Foundation, the Boykin Spaniel Society, the Golden Retriever Foundation, the National Amateur Retriever Club, and the Spinone Club of America, the Labrador Retriever Club, and the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of America.
Enthusiasts can help make their fall hunting season a rewarding and enjoyable experience by being cautious of potential dangers.
  • Taking time to check your dog for grass awns after a day in the field will go a long way toward this end.
  • Check your dog’s ears and coat and immediately remove any grass awns you find.
  • This also is a good time to check for and remove ticks or other debris and examine your dog for possible injuries.