Freddie the basset hound and the Mysterious Itch

0003My basset hound, Freddie, is one of the gentlest, best-tempered dogs you’ll ever meet. He has only two annoying traits: his love of rolling in anything smelly and his uncanny ability to turn something harmless, like the aforementioned roll, into a vet bill that would make Donald Trump choke.

    This spring, one such odiferous tumble in the woods produced one of his highest vet bills yet, entangling us in something far more unpleasant and expensive than just rancid odors.

    When Freddie began scratching his right ear the Wednesday after his woodland adventure, I should have known we were headed for trouble. I examined his ear but saw nothing except a small bug-bite-looking bump, so I applied some anti-itch spray and crossed my fingers. Despite the spray, Freddie’s scratching and licking increased feverishly until it had inflicted several abrasions.

    It was time for more drastic anti-scratch protection: The Cone.  

    I had never used a cone on Freddie before, so I headed to PETCO to get one. In the aisles of the giant pet-goods retailer were two types of cones: practical, plastic, satellite-dish-looking things and the soft-sided “Comfy Cone,” which featured a sleeping dog in its ad.

    I knew I should choose the cheaper, lampshade-like item, but I just couldn’t. It looked horribly uncomfortable and seemed to scream, “Cone of Shame!” I shook my head at my own ridiculousness and paid for the “Comfy Cone.”

    Freddie didn’t seem to mind the cone at all. In fact, it was so “comfy” that by the afternoon he had begun using it to scratch his ear. The anti-itch spray had failed; the cone was of limited help; and by 5:04 p.m. on Friday, Fred’s ear was so inflamed that if it could have talked, it would have yelled, “You are the worst dog owner ever!” It was time for the vet.

    Since my vet’s office had closed for the weekend (just four minutes before I had admitted defeat), I dragged Freddie to PetSmart where, thankfully, there is a clinic open until 7 p.m. on Fridays. Two-and-a-half hours and $415 dollars later, we learned Freddie had multiple ear infections.

    I was torn between feeling like I should be put in the “cone of shame” for letting my dog’s condition get so out-of-hand and wanting to cry at the cost of the bill.

    As I looked at Freddie’s droopy face swaddled in the Comfy Cone that night, something didn’t make sense. Freddie had suffered ear infections before (they are a common ailment among basset hounds), but never had he scratched himself so raw. It was the frequency and fervor of his scratching that perplexed me…until the next morning.

    On Saturday, I found small red, blister-like bumps on my wrist. As I nonchalantly scratched them, I wondered where I had seen these marks before. An hour later, as I caught myself scratching again, it hit me: poison ivy.

    But how could I have gotten that? There wasn’t any near our house; I hadn’t been in the woods or anywhere near poison ivy. But there was someone—somedog—who had.

    Somedog I had bathed after he had rolled in something smelly in the woods. Somedog who’d spent the last three days scratching like mad and whose right ear, face and eye were now red and swollen, much like my wrist.

    I learned that, although uncommon, it is possible for dogs to get (and transmit) poison ivy, especially if they come into contact with it where their fur is thin, such as the underside of a basset hound’s ear.

    I will never be sure which came first: my dog’s ear infection or his poison ivy. Either way, with the help of the Comfy Cone, repeated baths, cleansers and gels, Freddie’s poison ivy was gone after a week, and he finally stopped scratching.

Marlene Petersen is a freelance writer who has loved her dog, Freddie, for 10 years but sometimes wonders if he should be renamed “man’s most expensive friend.”