Toby, a 6 year old male neutered Goldendoodle, came to see me when his owner noticed that he was coughing and gagging excessively after vomiting the day before.
On examination, he continued to cough and clear his throat repeatedly. His owner told me that he had seen Toby eating some grass in the yard the day before as well as that morning. He said he sometimes did this when his stomach was upset. I asked him what Toby had thrown up and he said it was just some bile and some grass. While I was talking to the owner, I witnessed Toby doing an abnormally deep swallow a few times. I call this "gulping" and it usually means that the dog is trying to get something out of the back of his throat. I decided to examine his mouth one more time and I found a very specific grass seed stuck to Toby's chin. It was the exact same color as his curly blonde coat so at first I missed it sitting there. I showed the owner and asked him if he knew what type of seed this was. He said, yes, I have that grass in my yard and that is what Toby was eating earlier that morning. Ah ha! I know what's going on! This type of grass is called Mexican Feather Grass and grows in abundance in Southern California. It is an ornamental grass found along sidewalks, at parks, and in yards in our area. In the summer, the grass forms thin wispy seeds (they look like giant sperm) that are easily dislodged from the plant and can be inhaled into the nose when sniffed, and are quite sticky when touched by dogs' fur or mouth.
The Treatment Plan
I told the owner that I highly suspected that Toby had some of these grass seeds stuck in the back of his throat but I would need to sedate him to thoroughly examine that area. Even the best dog in the world will not let me examine the back of the mouth when awake. Their large tongue gets in the way and they have a strong gag reflex when that area is touched. After sedating Toby, I was able to open his mouth very wide and use a long instrument called an alligator forcep to remove a large number of seeds from his oral cavity. The seeds were stuck in the tonsil region, wrapped around a few of the back teeth, and even the base of the tongue. His throat was quite red and inflamed from all the coughing and irritation.
Toby recovered well and did have a few more days of coughing but made a full recovery. During the time I had Toby at the hospital, his owner went home and pulled all of these plants from his yard so this would never happen again. If you see these plants while walking your dog, keep your distance as I routinely pull these seeds out of dogs' noses too. And never let your dog eat this type of grass!
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country; however, if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.