Spear grass, a common name applied to a broad category of grasses, looks innocuous on the surface.
A closer look though reveals its dangers: sharp, pointed leafs with backward reaching hooks that can steadily but inevitably dig themselves through skin and fur, capable of causing great damage, even death to animals including dogs.
Joanna Piercy, a veterinarian at Oaklands Veterinary Hospital, is more than familiar with spear grass. Her office treats about five cases a week, and over the years she has seen and heard of gut-wrenching cases involving spear grass.
“They are nasty,” she said. “They can go anywhere [inside the body of a dog].”
While spear grass frequently becomes lodged in the paws of dogs, it can also enter their ears, lungs, anus and vulva. Once inside the animal, it can cause harmful infections, and possibly death, if left untreated. While such cases are admittedly rare, Piercy has seen an increase in cases over the years.
So what can pet owners do to avoid spear grass? “I’m not sure you can do that,” she said. “It’s everywhere in Victoria.”
Prominent locations include along Dallas Road and the UVic dog park, popular spots for dog-walkers.
There are steps that dog owners can take to prevent the worst effects when taking their pets to prominent locations with high occurrences of spear grass such as Dallas Road and the University of Victoria Cedar Hill property.
They include screening their pets for spear grass. If left undetected, spear grass can not only be painful for affected animals, but also their owners’ pocketbooks. Treatment costs can start around $200, and go up from there, depending on the extent and frequency of the treatment.
Others such Jim and Jen, a local couple who did not want to give their last name, are calling for improved maintenance of areas full of spear grass but also popular with dog owners such as the Cedar Hill property owned by the University of Victoria.
During a recent walk with their dog Stevie (named after the Fleetwood Mac singer), the couple pointed to large tufts of spear grass and talked to other dog owners about the issue, with the general consensus being that owners have had more than their fair share of experience with the pesky weed. As for Stevie, she has not had any issues with the spear grass — at least not yet, said Jen.
Ron Proulx, executive director of facilities management at the University of Victoria, said the Cedar Hill property is currently an undeveloped portion of the university campus with its upkeep kept to a minimum.
“While the university allows members of the public onto this property, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure their safety and that of their pets,” he said.