Keeping Your Dog Safe: 4 Hidden Dangers to Dogs.

-Catherine Sampson

Many of us know the common foods and plants that are toxic to dogs. You may know that avocados and grapes are toxic to dogs. You may also know that azaleas and sago palms can land a dog in the emergency room if ingested. 

But there are some things out there that can harm a dog and endanger its life in the blink of an eye. And the scary part is that we may not even be aware of these dangers.

The following is a list of 4 incredibly harmful things to dogs. Some of these are life threatening, but they can easily be avoided by staying aware of the situation. We hope this information will help you keep your pooch happy and safe!


Foxtails are a grasslike weed. It grows in many parts of the United States and is especially common on the west coast. 

But what’s so dangerous about grass? 

It turns out that foxtails are intended to burrow deep into the soil. They have microscopic barbs that prevent them from going backward. This means that they can only go forward. 

When a foxtail attaches to a dog in between its paws, into its nose, its ear, chest, etc, the foxtail will continue its path forward. It can penetrate into the dog, and it will continue until it finds its way out or hits bone. 

This can cause major complications. The foxtail can go into the paw and cause swelling as it continues to burrow inward. It can even pierce a lung. 

Here, you can see the tract that the foxtail made as it traveled up a dog’s leg after entering through its paw. Foxtails have to be surgically removed when they lodge themselves into the dog, but you can take steps to prevent the situation from getting to that stage:

  1. Keep an eye out for foxtails when you take your dog outside. Prevent your dog from walking in areas that are thick with foxtails. 
  2. Don’t hike with your dog during foxtail season. Foxtails turn brown and dry during early summer until the fall. When they’re dry, they break off and attach to dogs more easily. 
  3. Inspect your dog for foxtails after going outside. Keep its coat brushed and its paws well trimmed. 
  4. Take your dog to the vet if you see your dog licking its paw excessively, a bump or little hole in between the paw pads, head shaking, or an irritated eye.

Toxic Algal Blooms

You may have heard of how two women lost all three of their dogs to blue-green algae poisoning in early August this year. Now, they’re on a mission to spread the word, and their post on Facebook has garnered 32k shares so far. 

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, can bloom rapidly in hot temperatures, sunlight, and nutrient-rich water. There are several types of blue-green algae that release harmful toxins. These toxins can cause nerve and liver damage to your dog. 

Not all algal blooms are toxic, but you can never be sure until you test the water quality. It’s best to play it safe and keep your dog out of water that you think might be contaminated with this bacteria. Here’s what to look for: 

  1. Avoid water that has a sheen or scum the color of green, red, gold, or brown. 
  2. Avoid stagnant water. 
  3. The bacteria is not always at the surface of the water. Be wary of water that looks murky or milky (if you can’t see your feet while standing in knee-deep water, then that might be the cause of a bloom). 
  4. Blue-green algal blooms can sometimes give off a strong, funky smell. Steer your pup clear of water that smells grassy or pungent.
  5. You can check apps in your area that give you information on water quality. If you want to go the extra mile, you can look up the pond or lake you’re going to beforehand. State parks may give water quality updates on their websites. You can even collect a water quality sample to send in for testing. But be mindful that blooms can be harmless one day and turn toxic the next day. 

For more information, you may look at this helpful fact sheet released by the Utah Department of Health.

Water Intoxication

Dogs have a blast frolicking and retrieving sticks and toys in bodies of water. But can playing in the water ever be a bad thing? 

It turns out that dogs have died from excessive water intake from prolonged fetch sessions. Even snapping at a sprinkler in the backyard can pose risks. 

Water intoxication, or hyponatremia, happens when more water enters the body than can be processed. More and more water starts filling the cells as they try to balance low extracellular (outside the cell) sodium levels. 

Signs of water intoxication can be lethargy, bloating, vomiting, loss of control, uncontrollable urination, and seizures. Sometimes, water intoxication is irreversible, and can lead to death if not treated immediately. 

Smaller dogs and dogs with high drive are more at risk of drinking too much water while playing. 

You can prevent water intoxication from happening by taking these simple precautions:

  1. Take frequent breaks while playing fetch in the water. Avoid those long 30 minute fetch sessions. Mix it up and have your dog run after the toy on land! 
  2. Monitor your dog during play. If it seems like he or she is biting too much at the sprinkler, then distract them a bit before letting them go back. 
  3. Be observant. Does your dog keep its head above the water and mouth closed while paddling back to you? Or is its mouth gaping wide open as the choppy waves continuously splash water into its mouth? If your dog is the latter type, then your dog might be more at risk of water intoxication. 
  4. Consider changing your toy to something flat that will encourage your dog to keep its mouth more tightly shut – versus a ball that will keep its mouth open to water sloshing in.

Escalator Injury

Escalators are almost everywhere in public spaces. Humans understand how to navigate these machines. Dogs do not.

According to the San Francisco SPCA, dogs come in for escalator injuries at least two to three times a month. Injuries range from ripped off toenails to amputations. 

The potential for serious harm is enormous because of certain factors. The texture of the escalator’s surface is foreign to a dog, and it can cause the dog to panic. The dog will not naturally know how to step on or off the escalator. Its fur or paws can get caught in the steps that continuously feed into each other at the entrance and exit of the escalator. Furthermore, the loud sounds, odd mechanical stair movements, and the rush of people can cause high levels of stress in the dog and lead to long-term trauma. 

In the service dog industry, escalators are a well-known challenge. Atlas strives to educate our clients, trainers, and volunteers on the dangers of escalators. Riding the escalator with a service dog is strongly discouraged. 

If there is an escalator, then it’s highly likely that there will be an elevator nearby. 

Here are other suggestions for how to tackle escalators with your dog:

  1. Carry your dog if you’re able to lift it. 
  2. Take the elevator or stairs. 
  3. If you still decide you want to take your dog on an escalator, first train them on an unmoving escalator on how to mount and exit it. Gradually familiarize them with this machine and do not flood/force them onto it.
  4. Even if your dog knows how to get on and off an escalator, it’s a great safety precaution to put dog boots on them to prevent their toes or fur from catching in the steps. 
  5. If there is an emergency, call for help and have someone hit the escalator emergency stop button located at the top and bottom of the escalator. 
  6. Once again, we highly recommend you choose to avoid escalators with your dog.

Long, Happy Lives

Dogs are strong animals in so many ways, yet their health and safety can be affected so drastically by seemingly innocuous things. 

It’s our duty to watch out for their well-being as much as they give us their love and support. 

Did you learn anything from this blog? Do you know anyone who has had a close encounter with foxtails, toxic algal blooms, water intoxication, or escalator injuries?

Feel free to share your stories on our Facebook page or directly email us at for more information or to tell us your own personal safety tips. And please share this blog post with other dog owners who may benefit from being aware of these four dangers!

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