My Dogs Gave Me Poison Ivy

Every year it's the same thing: My two Goldens pick up poison ivy and pass it to Mama. Can I catch a break, please?


You should see the other guy. That’s what I wanted to say to the people who took one look at my face this summer as I was walking my dogs and inevitably averted their eyes from the horror.

Granted, I did look like I was part of some underground fight club. Swollen eyes; puffy, red cheeks; a distinct aura of defeat. But then, as anyone who saw the 1996 cult film knows, the first rule of Fight Club is … you do not talk about Fight Club. Also, the damage wasn’t dramatically caused by some ‘roided out opponent, but by my pair of innocent-looking Goldens.

That’s right: My poison-ivy-spreading pooches were responsible for turning me into some facial freak show this summer.

To be fair, I inevitably stumble upon my own poisonous plants while gardening. I’m pretty sure some poison ivy-sumac-oak combo afflicts me yearly. But the worst of it always seems to come from my boys, who each and every summer turn into four-legged transmitters.

Every season, I vow it will be different. I will be vigilant. I will finally learn how to spot the plants, in all their mutations. I will invent some garden-variety Lady Gaga egg to protect me from the elements.

I try to keep the boys away from poison whatever in our yard and our walks. I try to remember to wash my hands after petting them. But honestly, my hands would be raw if I did that. So, I buy all –- and I mean all — over-the-counter antidotes. I try every home remedy known to man or the Internet.

Yes, I did cover all my welts in clear nail polish after reading it helps dry up the affected areas and keeps the rash from spreading. No, I didn’t consider the potential effect of the chemicals on my skin. I went through two bottles of polish before concluding it was an urban myth.

Inevitably, I call the doctor’s office. Usually I can just phone in, say I have poison ivy –- again — and someone calls in a prescription for prednisone, the steroid most commonly used to treat poison ivy. But this year was different. I recently moved, so my new doctor wanted to see me before prescribing prednisone. Fair enough, except I couldn’t get an appointment for a week.

“Are you serious?” I almost cried into the phone. I offered to come in and let a doctor diagnose me from the lobby or the parking lot. I could text a picture as proof, I said, only half-joking. I promised I wouldn’t try to sell the pills on some prednisone black market -– though if one existed I would have definitely tried to score some. The nurse was sympathetic but unmoved. She was sorry, but I had to come in -– the following week.

At night, I could swear I felt the toxins spreading. I clawed at my skin. I enviously watched my dogs soundly sleeping. I read up on how dogs are protected from poison ivy’s urushiol oils through their fur. Isn’t that handy? Adorable silent assassins, I thought in my darkest hours.

By the time I saw the doctor, I had the worst case I could remember in years. My left eye was nearly swollen shut. I finally had those coveted puffy lips, if you could just ignore the oozing rash around them. I believe the clinical term is “hot mess.” Looks like poison ivy, Dr. Obvious concluded. Sorry, a mutant case of poison ivy makes me a little snippy.

It took a few weeks to clear up, and I have some scarring from the rash. But as I write this, I am reveling in a hint of the cool air to come, which will eventually zap those evil plants into submission for another season. And –- bonus! — I have a refill of prednisone waiting for me if it happens to come back before the first frost hits.

Over the years, doctors, friends, and people unlucky to run into me midbout have offered lots of suggestions. One doctor revealed his dismal bedside manner by suggesting I refrain from petting my dogs in the summer. I refrained from returning to his office. Another suggested I wear gloves when petting my dogs. That was just weird.

But while not foolproof, there are a few ways to decrease the pooch-to-human poison-ivy transfer:

  • Cover up: When you’re out in the yard or playing with your dogs, wear long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. That way, if your pets rub up against you, you can wash the clothes and hopefully keep the oils from spreading to your skin.
  • Wash your hands: In theory, this is a good idea. But as I mentioned earlier, in my reality, it’s not practical. Same goes for bathing your pets. I have a pair of active, rambunctious boys. They’d be in the tub every day if I went down this road.
  • Keep your doctor on speed dial: Obviously, this is what works best for me.

Do you get poison ivy from your pets? If not, what do you do to keep from getting poison ivy from your pets? Let us know in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “My Dogs Gave Me Poison Ivy”

  1. I’ve been dealing with poison oak for over twenty years. Long ago, an employee at a health food store told me about Hyland’s Poison Ivy/Oak sublingual tablets. He suggested I put one under my tongue every day and I’d help to build an immunity. I’ve used the tablets daily since then and while it has not totally eradicated my sensitivity to poison oak, my cases are less frequent and the reaction not as bad as the original one which had me at the hospital looking for prednisone. The tablets also reduce itching so I take them several times a day when I have a case (usually on my arms). While I have a rash, I love the gel’s that cool, cover and contain the rash and reduce itching. My number one goal is to keep it from spreading. After the gel dries, I wear long sleeves/pants to keep the rash covered. I don’t drag the sleeve or pant leg material over the rash then onto new, untouched skin. With an especially oozy case, I have covered the treated area with gauze and taped it on under my sleeves, replacing when I put on more gel. I limit my baths/showers (to once a week, less bathing means less spreading). With a bad case, I have covered the rash area (arm or leg) with a plastic bread bag, taped it on with adhesive tape, and removed it after the shower. I wash with poison oak product and as I rinse, keep the rinse water off the rest of my body as much as possible. I use a new bath towel each shower and throw it in the wash after. My latest case came from petting my dog. I’m on the hunt to find the best way to keep that from happening.

  2. My dear dog ran through a ditch and I gave her a bath.

    A few hours later, my palms are itching like mad.

    It spread to my eyes, and my rib cage.

    Please be careful when bathing your dog after a romp in the woods.

  3. I have found zanfel to work . Use it at the first sign, but it is helpful at any stage. It is pric e y, but so worth it.

  4. I have gotten poison ivy from my husky puppy four times this summer. I just cannot seem to locate the source of the plants in my yard… I am also allergic to prednisone so that doesn’t help me at all. I’m currently 8 weeks pregnant and still have no idea what I can use for relief. I will likely get some topical steroid cream from my doc that will barely make a difference while the rash takes over my body for the next two weeks. SIGH It really is the WORST!

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