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Ask the Vet: Pets Transfer Poison Ivy Oil to People

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: We discovered poison ivy in our woods. If our cats and dogs touch it, can it cause them problems? What if they rub up against us humans?

A: Neither cats nor dogs suffer from poison ivy rash, but their coats easily transfer the oil in poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac to humans. This oil, called urushiol, causes the common poison ivy rash in people who are sensitive to it.

I learned that the hard way when my golden retriever Sam snuggled against me after he came into contact with poison ivy that had invaded our backyard without my knowledge. My face, neck and arms broke out in the red, itchy rash typical of poison ivy.

Since then, I've learned that urushiol persists for years on surfaces, including clothing, furniture and anywhere else our pets settle. So, your pets can transfer the oil to you directly, as Sam did to me, or indirectly, by leaving the oil on other surfaces you eventually touch.

I dealt with the problem by using an herbicide to kill the poison ivy in my yard. Don't burn it or shred it with a weed-eating string trimmer because you'll scatter the oil into the air and give yourself and others the worst poison ivy rash you can imagine.

Another option is to bathe your pets with pet shampoo or Dawn dishwashing liquid each time they come inside. If your cats won't tolerate that, clean them with pet wipes or accustom them to living indoors.

 

Some people wipe their pets with Tecnu to remove the urushiol and then shampoo them to remove the Tecnu. See https://teclabsinc.com/ for instructions.

Until your yard is free of poison ivy, wash your hands with Fels Naptha laundry bar soap, Dawn or a detergent and cold water immediately after petting your cats and dogs. Washing with hot water opens your pores, allowing the urushiol to penetrate the skin faster. The skin absorbs urushiol within minutes, and once it's absorbed, you can no longer wash it off.

If you take these precautions into account, I hope you'll be spared the dreadful poison ivy rash Sam gave me.

Q: I recently adopted a mixed-breed dog named Bear. When I told the veterinarian I was feeding him a grain-free diet, she advised me to switch to dog food with grain. She said grain-free diets from small and boutique manufacturers are associated with heart failure. Please tell me more.

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