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6 Brain Games to Keep Your Dog’s Mind Healthy

Proper exercise for dogs is important to their overall physical and mental well-being. But often, mental exercise is given short shrift when looking at fulfilling a dog’s needs.

4 Easy Ways to Keep Your Dog's Mind as Healthy As Her Body | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

Dogs that are bored or anxious can develop mild-to-severe behavioral problems. Providing your dog with brain exercise is easy to do.

Here are six ideas to try:

1. Train your dog to learn a new behavior

This video demonstrates how to work simultaneously on the “down-stay” exercise for your dog while getting your own workout.

You’ll need treats for your dog — consider using your dog’s daily allotment of kibble as rewards to help with weight control.

Here are 52 tricks you can teach your dog.

2. Enroll your dog in a continuing education class

People can take continuing education classes… why not dogs? After your dog “graduates” from obedience training, consider enrolling her in a “dog sports” course, such as agility training or scent work.

Or try a “brain games” class, where your dog can learn to ride a skateboard, discriminate colors, and more.

To find out what classes are available in your area, visit the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

3. Play nose work games

A dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times stronger than a human’s. Allowing her to “see” the world through olfactory senses stretches her mind and keeps her entertained.

You can teach your dog the “find it” or “seek” command with a nose work or scent game. As an enticement, select some smelly treats to have your dog find. The treat might be as simple as her regular kibble. Or it might be her favorite toy, or a favorite treat she doesn’t get very often.

Have your dog sit in the “stay” position and place a treat slightly out of her line of sight. Then tell her to “find it.”

Encourage her as she’s searching for the treat and praise her when she’s getting close and when she finds it. If she’s having trouble finding the treat, give her clues by making a scent trail for her to follow (or point out the treat to her).

As your dog masters the basics, you can up the game by placing treats or toys a little farther away, or in places where she won’t see them right away, such as on a windowsill or a chair.

4. Go on sensory walks

Similar to nose work games, sensory walks stimulate your dog’s olfactory senses while providing physical exercise. If you normally walk a straight line with your leashed dog next to you, consider designating certain times or areas during your walk for free sniffing. This video demonstrates how to teach our dog the “go sniff” cue.

Vary your walks, and search out places that have an abundance of new smells.

5. Arrange a dog-human “date”

Bring your dog with you on outings. Riding in the car and seeing new faces and places can be mentally stimulating for her and helps reinforce socialization.

Before setting out on your “date,” research dog-friendly places (such as coffee shops, restaurants, home improvement stores, garden/nursery stores). Check with the store manager first, and make sure your dog is on her best behavior during your date.

6. Give your dog an interactive puzzle toy

Dogs are natural problem solvers. Puzzle toys keep her focused on a task and boost her confidence.

You may need to experiment with several different types of puzzles until you find one that keeps her busy and engaged.

Your Pet Shouldn’t Have to Wait to Feel Better! Consider Urgent Care

Why pay for an emergency room visit if it isn’t necessary?

We can provide comfort and relief for conditions that aren’t serious enough for an emergency hospital, but are too pressing to wait.

Your Pet Shouldn't Have to Wait to Feel Better! Consider Urgent Care | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

We save a number of same-day Urgent Care spots in our appointment schedule every day.

If your pet is experiencing an urgent situation, please call us at 206.323.4433, and we’ll do our best to fit you into our schedule on the same day.

Urgent Care Conditions

Urgent, non-life-threatening conditions include:

  • ear infections
  • acute vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • skin conditions
  • eye problems
  • minor wounds

Learn more about our Urgent Care services.

Should I Adopt a Puppy or an Adult Dog?

family hugging dog

Bringing a furry friend into your family is a fun and challenging adventure.

No matter what their age when you adopt them, all dogs require lots of care and attention. Particularly if you’re a first-time dog parent, it’s important to know what’s realistic, in terms of the time you must devote to training, socializing, and exercising your dog.

Puppies require round-the-clock care

The first year and a half of a dog’s life is equivalent to humans from birth to age 18!

puppy shredding toilet paper

Like human toddlers, puppies seem to be everywhere at once. These active balls of fur are easily distracted. They are messy. They have accidents. They may whine, howl, bark incessantly, and chew things. They need frequent potty breaks, feeding, playtime, and walks throughout the day.

Dogs are mentally and emotionally immature until age 2 or 3. It’s critical to make sure your young dog receives constant attention, ongoing socialization, training, and plenty of exercise during this developmental period.

If you work long hours, are rarely home, or you travel often (without your pet), it’s best to adopt an adult dog (or none at all).

Which is the best choice for you: a puppy, adult dog, or senior dog?

The information and questions below will help you assess the type of canine companion that will best fit your lifestyle, energy level, and schedule.


large mixed-breed dog

Mixed-breed puppies can present you with some interesting surprises. What you had assumed would be a smallish lapdog may grow (and grow, and grow!) to monstrous proportions.

Question to ask yourself:

Am I emotionally prepared to parent a dog that grows much larger (or shaggier) than what I expected?


shy dog

Similar to a dog’s size, you can’t predict how a puppy’s temperament may change as she matures. When your new pup first enters your family, she will likely be nervous. After all, she has just been separated from her mom and siblings – from everything she’s ever known.

In the same manner, when you adopt an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue foster home, it can take anywhere from days to several weeks for your dog to acclimate to her new home and develop trust in you (longer, if she is coming from an environment where she was neglected or abused).

Question to ask yourself:

Am I willing to devote whatever time, training, and loving attention it takes to help my dog adjust to her new home?


shelter dog

When you adopt either a puppy or an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue organization, you should expect potential health issues:

  • inherited or undiagnosed conditions or behavioral problems
  • inadequate pre-natal or post-natal care
  • lack of veterinary care and routine vaccinations

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I prepared to deal with unexpected behaviors and/or medical issues that may be a result of my dog’s history?

  2. Have I been made aware of any known medical issues this dog has?

  3. When was the dog’s most recent wellness exam?

  4. Has the dog received necessary vaccinations and parasite treatment?

  5. Have I budged appropriately for immediate, ongoing, and emergency veterinary care throughout the life of my dog?

  6. Am I financially secure enough to pay a potentially costly vet bill during the first week/months after my dog is in my home?

Further Reading:

12 Tactics to Help Your Pet Have a Fear-Free Veterinary Visit


In many cases, a young puppy will not have received any training. You will be responsible for crate training, potty training, leash training, grooming, and socializing your pup.

While most adult dogs will be potty trained, re-training may be needed in other areas.

Questions to ask yourself:

How much time and energy am I willing to immediately devote to training or retraining my dog in these areas:

  1. Crate training

  2. Potty training

  3. Leash training

  4. Grooming – If you plan to bring your adult dog to a groomer, find out whether they’ve visited a groomer before, and what the experience was like for your dog). Will your dog feel comfortable with you giving him a bath, trimming his nails, and cleaning his ears?

  5. Socialization training – Your puppy or grown dog needs to learn how to behave and interact with people and other animals.

Further Reading:

15 Tips for Socializing Your Puppy in a Socially Distant World

10 Tips for a Safe and Fun Off-Leash Dog Park Outing

After you have given serious thought to the questions above, ask yourself this final, important question:

Is a dog (puppy or adult) a good fit for my current lifestyle?

Like human children, your fur baby will be a family member. Does your situation in life, your income, and your availability allow you to fully commit to caring for your new family member?

If your answer is a resounding “Yes!” we suspect that you’ll find dog parenting a rewarding experience.

Further Reading:

6 Steps to Introduce a New Dog to Your Current Dog

3 Safety Tips for Traveling in a Car with a Pet

Dog driving car and man in backseat with head out windowA road trip with your pet can be fun for you and your furry friend. But one of the most common injuries to pets is due to accidents inside cars.

Unrestrained pets in a car are unsafe.

“You wouldn’t put your child in the car unrestrained, so you shouldn’t put your pet in the car unrestrained either.”
~Col. Frank Rizzo, superintendent of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Here are 3 things to say “no” to before traveling in a vehicle with your pet:

1. Just say “no” to free-range pets

Allowing your pet to roam freely in a moving vehicle is a recipe for disaster. Cats love to crawl under the driver’s feet, which can interfere with accelerating and braking (plus, the cat can get squished).

And dogs tend to get overly excited, jetting from one side of the car to the other and distracting the driver.woman tethering dog into backseat of vehicle

The safest place in a car for a pet is in the backseat, like a child, restrained in a tethered pet carrier or vehicle restraint harness.

cat in crate in backseat of vehicle

Even crates can go through windows during an accident, so tie the crate down, either with the seat belt guides that are fitted into the travel carrier, or on the floor of the back seat, with bungee cords or ropes.

2. Just say “no” to passenger seat pets

Even if your dog is big enough for the front passenger side seatbelt to fit over him, seatbelts and airbags are designed for adult-sized humans.

And even if your pet is in a carrier or harness in the front seat, it can be crushed by the driver’s body or the inflation of the airbag. In a collision, an unrestrained pet anywhere in the vehicle can become a projectile missile, seriously injuring itself and other passengers.

3. Just say “no” to distracted dogging

Holding your pet in your lap while you drive, while legal in many states, can be extremely dangerous for the driver, passengers, other motorists, and your pet.

Consider this: If you’re driving 30MPH and get in an accident, your 10-pound dog or cat can turn into 300 pounds of force.

In Washington state, our distracted driving law prohibits tasks not associated with operating a vehicle. Holding your pet on your lap might be considered a distraction. If you pet interferes with you handling your vehicle or you’re pulled over for erratic driving or leaving the lane of travel, you could be subject to a negligent driving ticket.

Smart drivers don’t drive with a human infant in their lap or a cell phone in their hand. Neither should we drive with an unrestrained pet.

Carsickness and pets

Another thing to be aware of when traveling with your pet is that some animals experience car sickness. Pet parents sometimes assume their pet just doesn’t like traveling in a vehicle, when, in reality, they are carsick.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Bowel movement while in the vehicle
  • Crying nonstop (cats, in particular, may vocalize or cry during the entire trip when they’re carsick).

We have a medication on hand that works well for pet car sickness. Ask us about it if your pet exhibits symptoms while traveling.

7 Ways to Help Your Pet Beat the Heat

Summer… what a great time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. But summer’s heat can be a dangerous time for your dog or cat.

To make sure everyone has a fun and safe summer, follow these 7 tips to help your pet beat the heat.

7 Ways to Help Your Pet Beat the Heat | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

Tips for Dogs

1. Provide plenty of shade and water.

Dogs can overheat quickly on warm days, and they’re not able to perspire as efficiently as humans. To cool off, they pant.

To prevent heat exhaustion, provide access to shade and water. If you have a short-nose “smooshy-faced” breed such as a pug, bulldog, Boston terrier or boxer, be extra cautious, because they are less heat-tolerant than other breeds.

2. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke, which can damage a dog’s vital internal organs and can be fatal. Be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

  • Excessive panting
  • Vomiting
  • Bright red tongue and gums
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Unsteadiness
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

If you suspect heat exhaustion, wet your dog with cool water and immediately take him to the vet for treatment.

3. Avoid walking or exercising on hot surfaces.

Have you ever walked barefoot on hot sand at the beach, or on sizzling pavement? You know how awful that feels!

Hot surfaces can cause your dog’s pads to burn. The problem: your dog can’t tell you that she has pad-burn! If you’re jogging with her, she’ll try to keep up with you even if she’s in pain.

It’s wise to avoid taking your dog for a walk or a run on hot days. Test the ground first with your own bare tootsies. If it’s too hot for you to comfortably walk on it, it’s too hot for your pup.

Exercise your dog early in the morning or in the evening, when the surface is cool.

4. Never leave your dog unattended in a parked car.

Not even if you are running into the post office for 5 minutes!

If the outdoor temp is 78 degrees, the temp inside the car parked in the shade can reach 90 degrees in minutes.

If the outdoor temp is 85 degrees and you roll your car windows down, your car can heat up to 102 degrees within 10 minutes. And it can reach 160 degrees when parked in direct sun! (See heat stroke tip, above.) Why risk your dog’s life? Just don’t do it.

Tips for Cats

While cats love to stretch out on a sunny windowsill and they tolerate the heat a little better than dogs, too much direct sunlight can cause overheating and may lead to heat stroke.

cat holding a water bottle

5. Provide a cool spot.

This is like a heating pad in reverse. Freeze a water bottle, wrap it (to keep it from sticking to your cat’s hair or skin), and place it under a lightweight blanket or towel in your cat’s favorite sunning area.

6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

When cats get hot, they get even thirstier than humans. The only way they can cool down is by drinking water. Make sure you replenish your cat’s water bowl frequently, and consider popping in an ice cube or two to keep it cool.

Or you can make CAT-sicles – popsicles for cats! Here’s how:

7. Apply sunscreen.

Yes, you read that correctly. Cats can sunburn. And overexposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer.

7 Ways to Help Your Pet Beat the Heat | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

As you might imagine, hairless breeds such as the Sphynx are particularly susceptible to sunburns on the ears, nose, lips, eyelids, and belly. But don’t use “people” sunscreen on your cat. Ask us about appropriate sunscreens for your kitty.

How to Protect Your Pet from Heartworm Disease

Two of our dog patients recently tested positive for heartworm disease. That’s the first time we’ve seen this in over 10 years, so we wanted to provide you with some important information about what to watch for in your dog or cat.

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm that lives inside the heart and blood vessels of a dog or cat’s lungs. While the disease is preventable, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are infected every year.

How to Protect Your Cat from Heartworm Disease | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

How is heartworm disease transmitted?

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and is found in every state, every climate, and every season. During the winter months, mosquitoes hang out in warm environments such as garages and greenhouses, which means that pet parents must take prevention seriously year-round.

High-risk cities for heartworm disease

According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) the 10 metro areas across the United States that experienced the biggest increase in canine heartworm disease during February 2019 are:

  1. Salt Lake City, UT
  2. Alexandria, VA
  3. Riverside, CA
  4. Topeka, KS
  5. El Paso, TX
  6. Paterson, NJ
  7. Chesapeake, VA
  8. Reno, NV
  9. Modesto, CA
  10. Boise, ID

Notice the prevalence of western states mentioned: Two in California, plus Idaho and Nevada. Heartworm risk has now arrived in Seattle, too.

Bad news, good news

The bad news is that early signs of heartworm disease are generally unnoticeable or invisible. Your pet could appear 100% healthy while the parasites are quietly making themselves right at home. Left untreated, heartworm disease can be debilitating and even fatal.

The good news is that protection is simple: Get your pet tested every year, and administer a heartworm preventive year-round.

Heartworm in cats

Cats are less susceptible to heartworm disease than dogs, but even indoor cats can get infected. The feline version of heartworm disease is different than the canine version. One or two worms feeding on a cat’s lungs can send a cat’s immune system into overdrive, causing inflammation of the lungs and respiratory distress.

Not all cats with heartworm disease show symptoms, but common symptoms include rapid or labored breathing, coughing, decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy.

Unfortunately, heartworm disease in cats is lethal and cannot be treated, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats. It’s important to have your cat screened for heartworm disease, and to start your feline on a preventive no later than 8 weeks of age.

Heartworm in dogs

How to Protect Your Pet from Heartworm Disease | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

A single bite from an infected mosquito can infect your dog. In dogs, the disease usually attacks the heart and lungs. Adult heartworms can grow to over a foot in length, wreaking devastation on a dog’s circulatory system.

It’s extremely important to have your dog screened for heartworm disease, and to start your puppy on a preventive no later than 8 weeks of age (Heartworm Society)

If your pet is due for a heartworm screening, needs a preventive, or you’re concerned about the possibility of heartworm disease, call us at 206-323-4433.



10 Things You Need to Know About Heartworm and Your Dog (Pet Health Network)

Five Things You Need to Know About Heartworm Disease and Your Cat (Pet Health Network)

Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC)

5 Fun (and Funny) Ways to Help Your Senior Cat Exercise

Unlike their human counterparts, cats don’t look in the mirror and vow to lose weight and get in shape.

5 Fun (and Funny) Ways to Help Your Senior Cat Exercise | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

As cats enter their senior years, they become more sedentary, which makes them more prone to obesity. That, in turn, puts them at risk of serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis.

To help your senior cat get moving, try these 5 enticements:

1. Toys

5 Fun (and Funny) Ways to Help Your Senior Cat Exercise | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

What kind of toys does your cat like?

  • Squeaky mice?
  • Funky feathers?
  • Dangly doodads?
  • Twirly tops?
  • Boxes or bags to hide in?
  • Ping-pong balls?
  • Crinkled-up pieces of paper?

As long as the toy interests her (and is safe for cats), she’ll likely play with it.

2. Exercise Wheel or Treadmill

There are exercise wheels made specifically for cats (they look like giant hamster wheels). You can also train your cat to walk/jog/run on a human treadmill, as shown in this hilarious video.

Begin the personal training when your kitty is young, if possible. Start at a slow speed and gradually increase the pace.

3. Cat Towers and Trees

Multi-tiered towers give your kitty lots of options for climbing, jumping, and playing. To encourage movement, place small treats in different parts of the tower (particularly high up).

4. A-Maze-Ing Hockey

Build a DIY hockey rink by putting a ping-pong ball inside a large cardboard box. Or cut holes in a bunch of boxes and create a maze, as in this video. Your cat (and the crowd) will go wild!

5. Take a Walk Outside

There’s lots of fun stuff to smell and explore outdoors, and some cats love to walk with a leash and soft harness. Others, not so much. But training your cat to walk with a leash is doable.

This video demonstrates how to help your cat get accustomed to a harness and shows cat moms (attempting to) walk their cats, with varying success.

We’d love to hear about exercises that work best for your senior kitty.

If you’re not sure which exercises are safe and appropriate, come and visit us. During your cat’s examination, we’ll check for physical constraints or health issues that may limit her ability to do certain exercises. And we’ll help you design an exercise regimen that’s purrrfect for your cat.

More Articles About Senior Cats

A ‘Senior Cat’ Q and A with Dr. Laura Monahan

Why is My Older Cat Meowing or Crying at Night?

Is My Cat a Senior? How to Care for an Aging Cat

10 Tips for a Safe and Fun Off-Leash Dog Park Outing

It’s fun to visit a park—especially with our canine friends. We enjoy the opportunity to exercise together, and our pets also learn how to get along with people as well as other dogs in a group.

Here are 10 tips and tricks to make the experience even more positive.

10 Tips for a Safe and Fun Off-Leash Dog Park Outing | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

1. Vaccinate, spay, or neuter first

Dog park outings are most appropriate for dogs who have been vaccinated.

Puppies should not visit dog parks until two weeks after they’ve completed their puppy vaccine series (including bordetella and parvo vaccines) – usually, after 18 weeks of age.

Adult dogs should go to dog parks only if they are current on their core vaccines. For added protection, dogs may benefit from the canine influenza vaccine.

To prevent unexpected litters of puppies, make sure your dog is spayed or neutered.

2. Preview the park

If your area has more than one dog park, do a little homework to determine which would be best for your pet. You’ll want the park to be well-maintained, and you may wish to go during a more or less crowded time.

10 Tips for a Safe and Fun Off-Leash Dog Park Outing | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

Off-Leash Dog Parks near Atlantic Veterinary Hospital:

Genesee Dog Park

In Southeast Seattle, just south of the Stan Sayres Hydroplane Pits and just west of Seward Park on Lake Washington.

2.7 acres, completely fenced, with two double-gated entrances. The center 2 acres is covered in gravel, making it mud-free in winter. The park has a doggie drinking fountain and a small and shy dog area.

Westcrest Park Off-Leash Area

In Southwest Seattle, above and west of Boeing Field.

8.4 acres with open spaces, paths, shade, trees, and a doggie drinking fountain. There’s even a special little off-leash hiking trail for canines and their people. For people, the off-leash area provides benches, chairs, and a shady place to relax. A special, separated area for small and shy dogs is located on the southwest side of the main off-leash area.

Blue Dog Pond

In Southeast Seattle, near I-90.

Fully-fenced, wide, rectangular field on 1.7 acres with grassy side slopes that your dog can run up and down. There are interesting art sculptures throughout the park that make it unique, including a giant reposing “blue dog” at the entrance.

Dr. Jose Rizal Park

Just south of downtown, on the north end of Beacon Hill.

4 acres with spectacular views of Puget Sound looking west and to the Seattle downtown skyline looking north. There is water available for dogs to drink. The fenced area is accessed from a long set of stairs at the north end of the Park. It is ADA accessible from the bicycle trail. A trail runs through the middle of the off-leash area which is compacted gravel and follows rolling contours.

Locations of off-leash areas maintained by Seattle Parks & Recreation

Reviews of the top 10 off-leash dog parks near Seattle

3. Train your dog to respond to voice commands

Dog park experiences are most satisfactory for everyone if your dog responds to voice commands. You want to know he’ll come when called, and then stay by your side. This helps resolve quarrelsome situations.

4. Leave food—for you and your pet—at home.

Just as you have certain foods you prefer your dog eat (or not eat), so do other pet owners. A dog park offers plenty of new scents for dogs to explore without introducing new food scents as well. The exception might be a small treat in your pocket in the event you need an added incentive for obedience.

Do bring water for you and your dog; water may not be available or accessible at a dog park that day. Bring your pet’s leash and several dog waste bags.

5. Bring dog-friendly toys… maybe

If you bring a ball or disc to play fetch with, use only dog-friendly flying discs (not made-for-people discs that can break a dog’s teeth). Invest in look-alike tennis balls (not the ones with the fuzzy coating that wear down a dog’s teeth). You’ll find these toys in pet stores.

Be aware that tossing a ball or disc for your dog may create a problem with other dogs. Be sensitive and wise to how other dogs in the off-leash area react, and stop if you notice anything out-of-the-ordinary.

6. Be friendly and respectful.

When you prepare to go to the park, clothe yourself with a friendly, respectful attitude. Plan to be part of solution, not the problem, to make the visit fun and safe for both of you.

At the Dog Park

10 Tips for a Safe and Fun Off-Leash Dog Park Outing | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

7. Assess the situation before you enter.

How does your dog’s energy level compare with those who are already in the park? Notice where there are dogs similar in size to your dog, so your pet will have someone to play with. (Some off-leash parks have separate areas reserved for small and shy dogs.)

Familiarize yourself with the rules before you enter the off-leash area.

Be prepared to clean up after your pet.

8. Pay attention while in the park.

This is an outing for you and your pet to enjoy together. Stay focused—avoid reading, texting or talking on the phone, or chatting with your friends (whose pets may not be the best playmates for your dog, in size or temperament).

9. Avoid puddles, goose poop, and foxtails.

Some Seattle-area off-leash parks get muddy following a rainy day. Rain creates puddles teeming with dangerous parasites. And then there are those irresistible piles of goose poop! Dogs can contract leptospirosis or giardia by drinking or sniffing contaminated water or eating goose poop or feces from infected animals.

Watch out for foxtails, too! Last summer, we had a big problem with dogs contracting foxtails when sniffing around the edges of some local dog parks. The foxtail awns lodged between their toes, up their noses, and in their ears, eyeballs, and genitals.

Foxtail seeds act like a large splinter, causing a very painful and infected abscess which can result in chronic illness and even, death.

Learn how to identify foxtail and foxtail risks in this article on our blog

10. Know what your dog is doing at all times and read her body language.

Not every dog gets along with every other dog; squabbles will happen, and often your pet will sense the tension before you will.

The most important tip is to simply have fun and treasure the time outdoors with your pet!

Foxtail: Little Seeds that Cause BIG Problems

During the past week, we’ve seen eight dogs with foxtail awns lodged between their toes. The seeds act like a large splinter that a body considers “foreign,” causing a very painful and infected abscess. Dogs come to see us limping, licking their feet, with a swollen, painful foot that’s often draining a bit of pus.

Not only do these prickly seeds cause pain when they enter the skin between toes, they’re also potentially dangerous to dogs and cats and can cause infection, chronic illness, and even death.

Identifying Foxtail

“Foxtail” refers to several species of tall, wild grasses common along the West Coast. They weren’t overly common in Seattle until the last two-to-three years, but we’re seeing a spike in patients presenting with them lodged in their bodies.

Foxtails commonly grow along roadsides, trails, and in grassland areas. In summer, as the plant begins to dry out, the seed heads become brittle and fall off the plant. Awns are shaped like arrowheads.

Foxtail: Little Seeds that Cause BIG Problems | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

Each awn has a sharp point and several long bristles. Each bristle is covered with loads of microscopic barbs that act similar to a porcupine quill or fishhook, only allowing the seed to advance but not back up. When a dog or cat brushes by dry foxtail, or sniffs it, steps on it, or rolls on it, the barbs catch on the animal’s fur, feet, nose, or ears.

When a dog steps on foxtail, those nasty barbs embed themselves deep into the webbing between the toes, causing an abscess. The barbs can dig themselves into a patch of skin and then travel through tissue. Because these tough seeds can’t be absorbed by the body or digested, they cause pain and inflammation as they migrate through the body.

Foxtail barbs can also go up a nose, into an ear, behind an eyeball, and into the genitals.

  • An awn lodged in a pet’s nasal passage can travel into the brain and cause seizures, and even death. Bring your pet in immediately if you notice frequent and intense sneezing or discharge from the nose.
  • An awn in an ear can rupture the eardrum and cause chronic ear infections. If your pet is incessantly shaking its head, tilting it to one side, or scratching an ear, it could be a sign of foxtail embedded deep within the ear canal.
  • An awn in an eye can lead to blindness. Seek veterinary care if you notice squinting, redness, swelling, discharge, or pawing at the eye.
  • An awn in the genitals can be excruciatingly painful. Contact us if you notice your pet persistently licking its genitals.
  • When a dog or cat inhales foxtail, the result can be a perforated lung or infections that require major surgery.

Minimizing Foxtail Risks

Obviously, the best way to minimize the risk of foxtail invasion is to avoid areas where foxtail grows. That’s not always easy to do in our area, where the weed grows like a… well… weed. When walking your dog, keep him on a leash and on the trail, to lessen the chances of our pet sniffing around foxtails.

If you have foxtails in your yard, dig them up by hand and dispose of them in the trash (not in yard waste or the compost heap, where the seeds may be spread to other yards).

After walking your pet, brush its coat and thoroughly examine between each toe, underneath the feet, in ears, armpit, groin, and anal area.

When to Seek Veterinary Care… and What to Expect

If you notice any suspicious lumps, swelling, excessive licking, head-shaking, or sneezing, contact us immediately. If we suspect a wound is caused by a foxtail awn, we will try to remove it by flushing and exploring the wound (this can be painful, and usually requires sedation).

Often we’re successful in finding the seed, which allows the body to heal. Sometimes the seed has traveled a good distance from where it entered the body (such as several inches up a leg from the toes where it entered).

Other times, we are not successful at finding the seed. In these situations, we may need to refer a pet to a veterinary surgeon who can use advanced imaging to try to find the seed’s track through the body so it can be removed.

As global warming changes our environment, threats to our pets are changing, from different species of parasites (dog ticks, deer ticks, Lyme disease, heart worms) to different species of plants (foxtails) and fungal infections.

We stay abreast of these changes and update our recommendations. Stay tuned here for timely updates as new information arrives.

Giardia in Dogs and Cats: What It Is and How We Diagnose and Treat It

Giardia is a microscopic, contagious parasite common in the Pacific Northwest. It causes the gastrointestinal illness known as giardiasis.

Giardia is found in contaminated water (such as puddles), soil, and food that has been contaminated with feces (poop) from infected humans or animals.

Giardia in Dogs and Cats: What It Is and How We Diagnose and Treat It | atlanticvetseattle.com

Giardia can cause gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea and vomiting, but can also be carried without signs in some cases.

Sources of Giardia Infection

A Giardia cyst can live for many months in the environment. A cyst survives in water and soil as long as it is relatively cool and wet.

Cysts are acquired from fecal-contaminated water, food, objects, or self-grooming (cysts can stick to feet and fur). After infection, it takes five days to two weeks for Giardia to be found in the stool. Diarrhea can precede the shedding of Giardia.

Diagnosing Giardia

In the past, diagnosis was difficult. However, a commercial ELISA test allows us to test for Giardia proteins and has dramatically improved the ability to detect Giardia infections.

Giardia-infected animals shed organisms intermittently and may be difficult to detect, so occasionally pets must be retested in order to find an infection.

Asymptomatic carrier animals are common. Humans can contract giardia infections as well, but it is not known if these infections can be shared between animals and people.

 Giardia in Dogs and Cats - What It Is and How We Diagnose and Treat It | AtlanticVetSeattle.com

Treatment of Giardia

No drugs are FDA-approved for treatment of giardiasis in dogs in the United States; however a two-drug combination is usually effective. Because cysts can stick to the fur of the infected patient and be a source for re-infection, the positive animal should be bathed at least once in the course of treatment.


Treatment failures may result from reinfection due to ingesting cysts from the pet’s coat or environment, inadequate drug levels, immunosuppression, drug resistance, and Giardia sequestration in the gallbladder or pancreatic ducts.

Certain immunosuppressed patients are abnormally susceptible to giardiasis and their infections are often difficult to cure. Reinfection is common in areas with high environmental contamination.

** Note: Reinfection seems most common amongst adolescent dogs ages 5-to-15 months, especially Labradors and doodles.

For More Information

Atlantic Veterinary Hospital in Seattle serves the following neighborhoods: Mt. Baker, Columbia City, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Seward Park, Capitol Hill, Leschi, Central District, Madison Valley, International District, and Georgetown.