The Trouble with Grasses


The English are credited with our love affair with the great green lawn.  Golf courses are grand sweeps of emerald views.  Where would be the landed gentry of Jane Austin novels without the pastoral vision of sheep and shepherds on his lord’s estate?  Over time, we who enjoy a lovely garden have multiplied our efforts to come up with waves of Kentucky Blue, Bahia, or even Zoysia (found those names under a site showing the twelve most popular kinds of grass).

I could do a whole post on how I feel about our cycle of water-to-grow-to-mow-with-gasoline-driven-mowers-to-water-to-grow-again, but that’s for a more political time.  Suffice to say, I’m not too fond of grass.  All those allergies!

Cheatgrass sweeps Chatfield State Park

Avoid Cheatgrass at Chatfield? Not likely.

Now I have an even greater reason to be wary of grass, but the kind of grass I’m talking about is called “Cheatgrass.”  Over $100 in a vet bill, and consider myself lucky, cheatgrass.

According to Robert Cox of the Colorado State Extension service (where you can have up to three kinds of plants identified for free), the cheat grass (or Downy Brome – Bromus tectorum) got its name “because it uses soil moisture in the Spring, “cheating” farmers out of a crop dependent on winter-spring soil moisture. Livestock may forage downy Brome in spring but once it sends up seed heads it is much less palatable.”

When the grass dries out in June and July, it develops something called “awns” (great word for you Scrabble players out there).  The awns are prickly little arrows that can only move in one direction, often embedding themselves in your socks, and other clothes as you walk out in the field, or in your pet’s case, embed themselves in their fur, in the soft skin between the pads of their feet, in their eyes, ears, and even in their lungs and stomach if they get inhaled.  Yuck!

Cheatgrass up close

Cheatgrass up close

Poor Prophet, got an awn stuck in his skin behind a rear foot.  I couldn’t see anything.  For two days, the poor guy hobbled about.  At one point his foot cramped so much he couldn’t put it down to walk.  That’s when I called the vet.

After a good 10 to 15 minutes of searching and manipulating Proph’s leg, foot and everything else that tested his normally calm demeanor, she found it.

“Ah,” said my vet, triumphantly pulling the little awn out, “foxtail grass!”  She told me about other dogs who have been brought in with infections, and how some don’t make it as a result.  “I had one little guy who inhaled the grass, and the awn worked its way through the lungs and up into the spine.  Another ingested one, got infected and died on the operating table before we could get it out.”

Scary stuff!  That’s when I took the grass to my local CSU extension service.  Mr. Cox told me that “foxtail” and “cheatgrass” are two distinct varieties of grass, and while cheatgrass, a native of the Mediterranean sea area, is considered a noxious weed by Colorado’s department of agriculture, foxtail with the obvious fuzzy tail shape at the top of its stem is not.

Cheatgrass is also a challenge in that it dries so thoroughly that it is often the source for grass fires here in the sensitive west (Please! No more fires for us this summer!).

As for my dog’s problem of cheatgrass in the dog area of Chatfield?

“I’m with you on the Vet bill – my dog got into some cheatgrass recently, to the tune of $85,” said Robert.  I knew I liked this guy.  He understands the problem (type “Cheatgrass infection in dogs” in your search engine and you can see some pretty gruesome pictures).

No way to avoid Cheatgrass

No way to avoid Cheatgrass

So what can you do to avoid the vet?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Enjoy your walks, but try to avoid off-the-path areas of deep, golden-colored grasses that haven’t had foot traffic in them.
  2. Brush Fido as soon as possible after your walks.
  3. Watch your dog as if she were a new puppy.  Be interested in her eyes, ears, nose and paws.
  4. If he starts any sort of limp, or shaking his head, try to examine Spike with a detailed once over.  Look for that gold color of dried grass.  It may be small, but it can hurt a lot.
  5. Call the vet.  It’s not worth the infection and operation to neglect the problem.

Here’s to another hot day in Colorado.  A cheatgrass-free day for us all.  But then again, perhaps there’s a story here . . .

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3 thoughts on “The Trouble with Grasses

  1. Troubles leaving a comment. Anyway, I saying that I have never heard of cheatgrass, but that is really some name, isn’t it? Poor doggie.

  2. Hi Luanne,
    Sorry for your troubles, but I loved the site that you linked through and am now following it. Don’t we look alike is a great name for an adoption site. My own daughter is a “tweenie” and she has told me it was hard growing up not looking like mom. Great that more people are becoming more accepting of new types of family all the time. Thanks too, for the kind wishes for Proph. He’s fine for now–just waiting for his next adventure!

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