Cheat Grass Dangers for Cats

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A kitten with cat insurance sits in the lawn.

By Dr. Matheys, a veterinarian and blogger for cat insurance provider, Pets Best Insurance.

It’s that time of year again to be on alert for various “invaders” from the plant world. As temperatures soar and rain is scarce, grasses and weeds dry out and seeds begin to scatter. This can mean trouble, by way of cheat grass, for cats that roam outdoors. Because of this, it’s a good idea to consider pet insurance for your cat since cheat grass can be very dangerous and costly to remove.

Cheat grass is one of the more common and invasive weeds found in many parts of North America and especially in the West. It is also known as June grass, Downy Brome, grass awn, foxtail, or by the scientific name, Bromus tectorum.

The danger for cats lies in the invasiveness of the dry seed pods found in late summer and early fall. These pods have one-way microscopic barbs that allow the seed to work its way into fur, skin and mucous membranes, but not work its way back out, much like the one-way movement of a porcupine quill. These annoying and troublesome weeds have been found in the skin, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, rear end, and between the toes; basically anywhere on the body.

Many times they will even migrate deep into tissue. They can even work their way through skin into body cavities such as lungs and abdomen, causing life-threatening infections. Cats are better at grooming and removing them from their coats, so we most commonly see them in their eyes and ears.

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We have seen several cheat grass cases in just the past two weeks. One cat patient, without cat insurance, had two grass awns in her eye and suffered severe ulcerations from the barbs scraping against the cornea of the eye. Do not underestimate the potential seriousness of this common problem.

Cats will show signs relating to where the awn has penetrated. Cheat grass in the ear typically causes scratching at the ear and head shaking. Cheat grass in the nose can cause intense sneezing fits and nasal discharge, and awns stuck behind the third eyelid usually cause squinting and rubbing of the eye, sometimes with severe swelling of the inner eyelids. Cats with an infected grass awn penetration will show signs typical of an infection: lethargy, anorexia, pain or signs of drainage. Any time you see your cats showing any of these signs, have them checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

Since most cats that go outside roam freely, it can be difficult to keep them out of grassy fields and roadsides where cheat grass grows. Keep your own yard free of these nasty weeds and try to identify any neighboring areas where they might exist and can be controlled. Keep long haired cats trimmed and free of mats. Check your cats after they have been outdoors. Daily skin and foot inspections plus quick removal will reduce or eliminate potential serious and expensive problems. For more information about pet health and pet insurance, visit

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