If your furry companion is like most dogs, he or she loves to explore while in the great outdoors. The thing is, dogs can come across things they shouldn’t, even if you keep a close eye on them.
When going for a walk outside, you take care to avoid poison ivy because you know what happens if your bare skin brushes against it — a red, itchy rash that can take days to go away. But dogs don’t know to avoid the plant. So, is poison ivy a problem for dogs the way it is for humans? And can dogs get poison ivy in the first place?
Yes, dogs can get poison ivy, although it isn’t all that common. Since your pooch is mostly covered in fur, it’s unlikely that poison ivy will come in contact with your dog’s skin. However, it’s completely possible for dogs with short, thin coats of fur to develop a poison ivy rash. Even dogs with thick coats can develop a rash on areas of the body that aren’t fully covered in fur.
Another concern is that your dog might eat poison ivy. After all, some of our canine companions will chow down on whatever they find that looks appealing at the moment.
Let’s take a closer look at poison ivy and other poisonous plants that your dog should avoid, and discover what to do if your dog does develop a rash or eats poison ivy leaves.
Plants to Avoid
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all members of the Toxicodendron genus of plants. They each can affect our canine friends because they contain the same substance: A plant oil called urushiol.
Urushiol is an oily sap found in the poisonous plant’s leaves, stem, and roots. Upon contact with exposed skin, it absorbs into the skin and acts as an irritant, leading to the symptoms associated with poison ivy.
Here are some tips to help you identify each of these toxic plants.
- Poison ivy grows in a variety of areas across North America, with the exception of desert climates, Hawaii, and Alaska. It’s commonly found in wooded areas, fields, and near water. The poison ivy plant always contains three leaves — remember the rhyme “leaves of three, let them be” — and the middle leaf has a longer stem and extends out past the two side leaflets. Poison ivy leaves usually look glossy or shiny.
- Poison oak can also be identified with the “leaves of three” approach. The leaves are fuzzier than poison ivy leaves, and the plant grows in the form of a climbing vine or shrub, sometimes with yellowish-white berries. It’s also common across North America and is particularly prevalent on the West Coast.
- Poison sumac is the only one of the trio that doesn’t follow the “leaves of three” rule. The Food and Drug Administration states that these small shrubs contain clusters of 7-13 smooth-edged leaflets and are most common in swampy areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and certain areas of the Southeast.
Now that you know what these toxic plants look like, you can do your best to avoid them. But as a pet owner, you know that you can’t always prevent your dog from getting at things he or she shouldn’t. So, what does poison ivy rash look like in dogs, and how can it be treated?
Symptoms of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
If urushiol oil makes its way beyond your dog’s fur coat and comes in contact with Fido’s exposed skin, the symptoms will be similar to what you’re used to seeing in humans. There will be an itchy rash with red bumps and possible swelling at the point of contact. As your dog scratches to relieve the itch, blisters and scabs might start to appear.
If your dog ingests poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, he or she might get an upset stomach. Some dogs may experience vomiting or diarrhea.
Most of the time, eating poison ivy is not a big deal for dogs — but there is a chance of a severe allergic reaction, and it’s even possible for your dog to go into anaphylactic shock. This isn’t common, but it’s always best to keep a close eye on your dog if you know that they’ve ingested poison ivy or one of its irritating family members.
Other Reasons a Dog Could Be Itchy
Keep in mind that plenty of other health issues could cause the symptoms described above, including:
- Allergic reactions to substances in the environment or ingredients in dog food
- Contact allergies with other plants or irritating substances (contact dermatitis)
- Skin mites
- Skin infection
- Parasitic infestation
If you’ve noticed your dog itching constantly, it’s time to visit your veterinarian for help. Your pet may need allergy medication or special shampoos or lotions designed to soothe the skin. Or, they might benefit from a change in diet or products like allergy relief chews.
If your dog seems to be having a severe reaction to something they’ve eaten or otherwise contacted, call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately, or rush your dog to the closest emergency room.
Treatment for Poison Ivy
So, what do you do if you notice poison ivy rash on your dog’s skin? You don’t want to let your dog scratch away at it because it could break the skin and cause scabs, blisters, and other problems.
The first step is to put on a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms when handling your dog. It’s entirely possible for the urushiol oil that’s irritating your dog’s skin to be transferred to yours.
Next, bathe your dog with warm water and an oatmeal shampoo made specifically for dogs. If you don’t have an oatmeal shampoo on hand, Dawn dish soap will work in a pinch. After you’ve bathed the entire affected area, dry your pup with a towel.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea to wash the towel as well as your clothing, which may have also come into contact with urushiol. You just to make sure you’re not spreading the irritant around.
Monitor your dog over several days to make sure the itchiness is subsiding. If it doesn’t, ask your veterinarian about giving your dog Benadryl or another antihistamine product.
Can Dogs Get Poison Ivy? Yes, But You Can Minimize the Risk
Dogs can indeed get poison ivy, just like humans can. They’re also susceptible to irritation from poison oak and poison sumac. It’s possible for dogs to ingest these plants, which can lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, or even a severe allergic reaction in the most serious cases.
Luckily, you can take steps to avoid poison ivy when you’re outdoors with your dog and significantly reduce the risk of your dog contracting it.
Keep an eye out for those three-leaf clusters, and remember that poison ivy in particular usually has glossy leaves. Do your best to avoid heavily wooded areas and dense shrubbery, as well as bog-like areas where poison sumac likes to grow.
At home, keep a good oatmeal shampoo and a few pairs of rubber gloves on hand, just in case your dog encounters a member of the Toxicodendron family and needs a bath. Following these simple steps will ensure that poison ivy and its irritating cousins aren’t something to worry about.
Visit the PetHonesty blog for more great tips on your dog’s care needs.