I apologize for the strong language. Once you’ve read my tale, you will understand.
This spring, Mike and I went out with our workgloves and pulled up or cut every plant we could find on our property with beautiful pink/purple flowers. We had learned that it was the source of the round, flat seeds our dogs are constantly plagued with—what are called “stick-tights” around here. They get in the dog’s fur, where dozens of hairs twist around them. Some get so twisted in you have to cut them out. They’re a pain! We were proud of ourselves for eradicating next season’s crop by killing the plants before they went to seed.
Meanwhile, all around us was another plant, one we weren’t familiar with. Just a simple little grass plant. We paid it no mind. That was a mistake.
Last Tuesday, both dogs started shaking their heads. Pendleton looked particularly miserable, constantly holding his head to the side. They’ve been swimming in the irrigation ditch to beat the heat, and we figured P must have gotten some water in his ear. I learned from my cousin’s partner that dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections (their dog Quixote got one), so I thought maybe this was the issue.
Mike took P in to our veterinarian, Dr. Zwanziger at Red Barn Veterinary. He got out the otoscope and declared, “Cheatgrass!”
It turns out that this little devil is going to make our lives a hundred times less fun than stick-tights ever could. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an invasive weed whose seedheads are covered in hairs that stick them into a coat of fur, say, for transport to another area. Fine. The problem is that they don’t know when to quit, and can drive themselves to the base of the coat of fur, through the skin, and through muscle tissue, lungs, or even through the nose to the brain. Or down the ear canal and through an eardrum.
Pendleton was lucky; the cheatgrass was on his eardrum but hadn’t penetrated it. Dr. Zwanziger plucked it off, squirted some antibiotic ointment in there, and P was good to go. Pendleton’s sense of relief was palpable.
That evening, I was working on homework and Mike was talking to his mom on the phone. Suddenly, Cap’n started screaming. I ran into the living room, where she was cowering with her head tilted to the side. She was obviously in pain. Damn it.
I called Red Barn on their emergency line, and brought Cap’n in. She, too, had cheatgrass on both eardrums.
Mike and I were thereafter more diligent, checking their ears after every walk. On Thursday, both dogs were shaking their heads again. Not wanting to have to pay for another after-hours emergency visit, which is considerably more expensive, we scheduled an appointment for them on Friday.
Sure enough, both had more cheatgrass in their ears.
We asked Dr. Zwanziger for ideas of how to keep their ears closed. He offered up some bandaging that might work. It would work … but the dogs were so obsessed with removing it I thought they were going to run themselves into trees.
We checked their ears at regular intervals.
Monday, Cap’n was shaking her head again. This time, the cheatgrass had penetrated her eardrum. It should heal, Dr. Zwanziger said, but it might compromise her hearing. (And birds everywhere rejoiced …)
We tried bandanas. They slid off their heads.
We tried cotton balls. They shook them out, and Pendleton promptly ate one.
If any of you, dear readers, have ideas about how to eradicate a stand of cheatgrass, or how to keep it out of a dog’s ears, please share them! These are active, young dogs that need more exercise than leash-walks and hanging out in the fenced yard can provide. There are no pristine green lawn-parks out here. As much as I want to support my vet, we can’t go there once (or twice, or thrice) a week …