Avoid poison oak for sake of everyone

Pete Keesling

Q: We got into a discussion the other day about hiking the hills with our dogs. There’s some poison oak on this trail we walk, so we try to avoid going to close to that area. Can our dogs get skin problems if they get into that stuff?
A:
It’s possible but very unlikely. Poison oak skin rash isn’t something that vets see very often. Some dogs can be allergic to almost any plant or grass. These so-called “contact allergies” sometimes come from just walking through weeds. And they can make a dog miserable with itchy, uncomfortable skin. But most dogs (and other animals) don’t react to poison oak. The resin in this plant (called urushiol) makes people very itchy. But it doesn’t affect animals. Think of it, deer and cattle actually eat this stuff when they graze.
The greater issue is whether your dogs could potentially “give” poison oak rash to you. If they run through a patch of this stuff, you could pick up the plant resin on their fur when you pet them. This kind of passive transfer is common, and it can result in a real rash for you. I remember once coming home with a bad case of poison oak after examining a large herd of beef cattle in the hills off Metcalf Road. Just touching those cows gave me a rash on my hands and arms and it was no fun at all. My best advice? Keep everybody away from the poison oak!
Q:
I’ve heard that goldfish make easy pets. We want to get a pet for our 8-year-old son, and think that it might be the right choice for his first one. Any thoughts? How easy are they to keep?
A:
Aquarium fish make great pets. And a goldfish is the perfect way to start. They’re easy to care for and they’re an inexpensive way to introduce your son to the responsibilities of pet care. Talk with some people at the fish store about a book or video that might help you. Meanwhile, here are several helpful ideas to make his first experience a good one.
First, choose a tank that’s large enough, at least 10 gallons. You’ll need to clean the tank every one to two weeks (the staff at the pet store can tell you how easy it is to do this). Goldfish produce a large amount of waste. Water temperature should be the same as typical room temperature; too warm or too cold can cause problems. And finally, be sure to pay careful attention to feeding. Probably the most common mistake people make is overfeeding. Goldfish only need a small amount of food flakes each day. The flakes will float on the top of the water, then sink to the bottom of the bowl if they aren’t consumed. If any flakes hit the bottom of the tank, you’ll know that too much food was put in the water. Have fun!
Q:
We bought health insurance for our dog, Levi, last November. Last week when we were hiking in the mountains he fell into a crevice. His fall resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury that will require surgery. Our insurance company is telling us that this event isn’t covered because in the fine print there is a note that ligament injuries are not covered for up to a year after the policy is started. I guess we should have read the policy more carefully, because now we’re going to have to pay out of pocket for his surgery. Have you heard of this before?
A:
 Unfortunately, yes. And the two words of caution for anyone interested in pet insurance are “be careful.” And always read the fine print.
The good news is that there are some newer policies available giving pet owners more choices in health coverage. But be careful and look over the policies thoroughly before signing up, because many of them have exclusions. These help insurers avoid signing up patients that may have preexisting conditions. On the other hand, exclusions also set up situations similar to yours, where there’s disappointment at a time when insurance is needed.
I don’t know if this will help, but I’d recommend you talk to Levi’s insurance company and state your case. If this is an actual acute injury, you just might get a sympathetic ear. It’s at least worth a try. Good luck.

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