A Tall (Grass) Tale

A Tall (Grass) Tale

We’ve all read the periodic story about some strange medical oddity, like the swimmer that got a fishbone stuck in his eye after swimming through a school of fish. Yes, that really happened and the case was published in New England Journal of Medicine, September 2015 issue. Unfortunately, these odd events happen to our pets as well. 


Earlier this spring little Lilly, a 9 pound, young, female, Maltese dog was presented to our emergency service in the early morning hours. Lily had always been a healthy and well cared for pet, but late the previous evening she began sneezing and having a hard time breathing. She would settle briefly, but then she was up again, gagging and gasping. The owners were obviously alarmed as her signs persisted and rushed her to emergency. Just like a sick child, once she reached our hospital at around two in the morning, she settled down and appeared fine. She drank water, ate a treat and after a thorough examination and chest radiographs, that were normal, Lily’s owners decided to return home thinking maybe she had some type of transient allergic reaction. 


However, at 10 AM that morning Lily was on my appointment book. Lily’s owner explained that once they returned home she continued to snort, sneeze, gag and at times drool. She then would rest, but the signs would redevelop. There appeared to be no trigger, but she seemed to be getting worse. I quizzed the family, had Lily been fine the previous day? They answered emphatically, ‘yes’. She was a pampered indoor pet, she was leash walked and supervised outdoors. She had no change in her daily routine, no change in the household (we discussed all sorts of possible allergens). Later, one of the owners did mention that the neighbor had trimmed some tall grass that Lily was interested in when she was walked   the previous day, but her sneezing, gagging and respiratory difficulties did not develop until hours later. 


Lily certainly appeared to have something affecting her upper airways and particularly her nasal sinuses and pharynx. We discussed possible causes ranging from allergies to infected teeth and even foreign bodies. Lily’s chest radiographs were normal as was her blood work, it seemed like it was time to anesthetize her so I could thoroughly examine her mouth and nose. 


Initially, the examination of her mouth and nasal cavities were normal and radiographs of her skull and nasal sinuses were normal. Next, her nasal sinuses were flushed with saline, over and over they were flushed with no evidence of any abnormal tissue or blockage. Then… in the back of her throat something long and shiny became evident. I grasped the object and gently pulled. Below you can see what we found along with a picture of Lily. 







Dogs use their noses to investigate their environment all the time. Frankly, it seems a little surprising the we don’t run into more cases like Lily’s. Below is a photo of wood removed using rhinoscopy (using scope to look into the nasal cavities) from a Labrador retriever that began sneezing after hunting in some reeds. The owners were hunting on remote island and it took them a day to get him to our hospital to have him evaluated. He, like Lily, had a complete recovery. 


Fortunately, the dogs nasal anatomy helps protect them from foreign objects and infection, but, as you can see, there are always exceptions. 

Posted on June 25, 2017
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