Beware of the Grass Awn

Well, if you follow either Chris or me on Facebook, you know we’ve been through quite the saga with Havana. I’m happy to say, after 4 surgeries and over $1,000 in vet bills, it’s finally over.

[Warning: This is long. If you’re only interested in the Cliff Notes version or photos, scroll to the end. Also be prepared … the second picture is pretty nasty.]

It all started back in August. We noticed she had some swelling on her side, by her back leg. We were a little worried and took her to the vet. He checked it out and thought it was likely some lymphatic fluid buildup. He put her on antibiotics and told us to monitor it. The antibiotics seemed to work, the swelling went away, and we thought it was over.

Then, a week or so after the antibiotics ran out, we noticed that the swelling returned. Some days it seemed to be getting better, and other days it seemed worse. Havana was acting normal and eating and didn’t seem to be in any pain, so we figured it wasn’t anything serious.

In early October, we flew off to Phoenix for a wedding. My parents were watching Havana. Early Sunday morning, my mom called us and told us that they needed to take her to the emergency vet because she looked like she’d been shot. There was what looked like a puncture wound on her side. Back by her leg. (It was actually an abscess that had burst.)

Surgery #1
When we took her to the vet on Monday morning, they told us what it was – a grass awn. How we’ve never heard of this before, I have no idea. Apparently, they’re very common and found all over the country. And now we know they are also very expensive. Anyway, they opened Havana up, found a “drainage track” which confirmed their suspicions, took out a bunch of small pieces of grass and sewed her back up.

A couple weeks later, we went in and had the sutures taken out. It seemed she was finally healing. Everything looked good until two mornings later. We noticed that she was paying particular attention to the area and to our horror we saw that the incision had opened back up. It was red and swollen again.

Surgery #2
So we took her back into the vet. They told us they had to go back in there. We left her for her second surgery and when we picked her up that night, we started the whole recovery process again. She seemed to be okay. But then we noticed that she was again swelling up at the top end of the incision. The vet had told us there may be a small amount of swelling at the bottoms as stuff drained, but it shouldn’t have been at the top.

Back to the vet we went. To make a long story a tiny bit shorter, they had chosen to go the more conservative, less aggressive route with the second surgery because everything had looked so good. But when she got swollen up again, they realized they made the wrong decision and should have been more aggressive with their surgery.

Surgery #3
For the third time, poor Havana went under the knife. This time, the incision they made was twice as long and they took out some of the infected tissue. They sewed her up and we were very cautious with her. We made her wear the Cone of Shame at all times. We limited her activity to going outside to go to the bathroom and going downstairs to sleep. We didn’t want to do anything to mess this one up. We were hoping this was it. When we took her in to have her sutures removed, she looked fantastic. The vet was very happy. And so were we.

Ten days later, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw swelling. Again. We were totally discouraged and at a complete loss because it seemed we were in a never-ending cycle. How long would this go on? If she went under the knife again, how would we know it wouldn’t just come back? We took her back to the vet knowing what we he would tell us. Because it was the fourth time and we felt like we were getting nowhere, we decided to get another opinion. (Her side, by the way, was getting worse by the hour, it seemed. The swollen area was getting bigger and it was obviously very painful.)

Surgery #4
The new vet confirmed what the other vet had told us. She needed another surgery. So we had no choice. We left Havana with the small hope that this vet would be able to do what the other one hadn’t – find the cause of the swelling. Less than an hour later, the second vet called and (FINALLY) said she had some very good news. She had found the biggest grass awn she had ever seen in her life. And she’s been doing veterinary medicine for a long time.

Here’s what she pulled out of poor Havana …

THAT little thing – a piece of grass – is what was responsible for months of stress and worry for us, pain and swelling for Havana, four surgeries and over $1,000 in vet bills.

Because of the amount of infection, they had to leave an open drainage tube from her wound for a few days.
So. There you have it. Our latest dog drama. I have some more thoughts to share, but I’ll save those for another time because this is already way too long.

If you’re still reading this, thanks for persevering! I’m willing to bet you’re probably related to us.

12 thoughts on “Beware of the Grass Awn

Add yours

  1. I'm so glad you wrote the whole story! I had no idea that little grass seeds could do all that damage. I'm so happy the origin of the problem was found and removed… that new vet sounds like a keeper!

  2. What in the world? Is the grass really sharp and it punctured her leg? I don't understand how it got in there in the first place!Glad that the pup is finally going to be okay. Good for you for making it through all of this!

  3. I'm sort of family. And that wasn't too long of a story. I hope that all those surgeries are over for now. Her sister misses her. Once Havana's better they should have a play date!

  4. Vanessa, it's that spear grass (tall grass shaped like a torpedo.) Once it catches on their fur, it has nowhere to go but in. Apparently it's been hanging out in her since August.

  5. I like them too. And in their defense … according to Vet #2 yesterday, she didn't do anything they hadn't already done. She just got lucky and found it.I was reading about this problem and apparently it often takes multiple surgeries to fix it.

  6. Not related, read the whole thing, but we love dogs. We knew that was a danger when we had dogs out in the desert in California, but guess I didn't think about it here. We'll have to remember this! Poor Havana – and poor you! Glad they got it!!!

  7. Not related and thanks for sharing…I have a dog and I recently pulled out a grass awn from his ear, after weeks of him shaking his head and me washing it out with ear drying solution. Hope Havana is doing better! =)

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