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Can Dogs Get Poison Ivy? Tips From an Expert

“Leaves of three, let it be.” You’ve probably heard this saying warning you away from plants that could be poison ivy. Yet, despite our best efforts to avoid this troublesome plant, the persistent itch of a poison ivy rash may still arise, leaving us to wonder if our furry friends played a part.

Perhaps, as you inspect your dog's belly, you notice a suspicious rash, prompting questions: Can dogs be affected by poison ivy? Do they share our sensitivity to its toxic oils? Join us as we explore these queries and shed light on the intriguing relationship between dogs and poison ivy.

Poison ivy on dogs: exposure routes and symptoms

Dogs can get poison ivy. However, poison ivy and other Toxicodendron species (like poison oak or poison sumac) are not as toxic to dogs as they are to people. In fact, the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center doesn't consider poison ivy toxic to dogs, and the Pet Poison Helpline lists poison ivy as only mildly toxic to dogs. So while you may break out in a blistering rash after coming in contact with poison ivy, your canine companion is much less likely to experience this irritating symptom thanks to their protective fur coat.

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When we think of how a dog gets exposed to poison ivy, we focus on two main routes of exposure: oral (ingestion) and dermal (physical contact).

When a dog eats poison ivy

While you wouldn’t just walk up to a plant and eat it, your dog’s natural curiosity sometimes leads them to eat things they shouldn’t. So what happens if a dog eats poison ivy? Often, nothing happens. But for some dogs, the plant can cause irritation in the mouth and throat, as well as gastrointestinal upset, resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhea. For most dogs, these symptoms will be relatively mild and short-lived with no long-lasting effects.

Rarely, a dog could be extremely allergic to poison ivy and have an anaphylactic response to ingesting the plant, with symptoms including hives, a swollen face or muzzle, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and collapse. If you suspect your dog is having anaphylaxis, seek immediate veterinarian attention.

When a dog touches poison ivy

If your dog simply brushes up against the plant, this is more likely to be a problem for you. Your dog’s fur helps protect their skin from exposure to the plant’s oil (urushiol), but it also means the oils are just waiting to get onto you when you inevitably pet your dog. Most dogs won’t react to poison ivy even if it does touch their skin.

However, for dogs who will react to poison ivy, you’re more likely to see the rash on relatively hairless regions, such as their groin, underbelly, or nose. You can sometimes see a groin poison ivy rash on dogs who’ve been frolicking through the plant, or a red, blistering rash on their nose if they've been sniffing around the plants.

Specific dog breeds aren’t known to be 'more allergic' to poison ivy. However, some breeds may have an increased likelihood of developing a poison ivy rash if they have a short coat, are hairless, or have short legs that allow their stomachs to brush against plants.

How to bathe a dog to remove poison ivy oils

If you know your dog has been exposed to poison ivy oils, then you will want to bathe them to remove the oils. This will protect both you and your dog from skin exposure.

To bathe your dog, saturate them with water. Make sure the temperature is acceptable so you don’t burn your pet. You’ll want to use a degreasing pet shampoo or pet-safe detergent to make sure you can get the oils out of your dog's coat. Anti-seborrhea soaps are great for this. In a pinch, Dawn dishwashing detergent is also safe for pets. There are also skin cleansers like Tecnu® designed to remove poison ivy oils which are safe to use on dogs as long as you follow up with pet shampoo. If you plan to use Tecnu, get it approved by your veterinarian first.

Make sure to wash your dog’s entire coat. Areas to avoid include the eyes, ears, inside the mouth or nose, and genitals. After you’ve lathered the soap in, make sure to rinse thoroughly.

You will also want to wash their collar, leash, or any other fabrics that were exposed. You can use Dawn dish soap and thoroughly hand-wash any objects that cannot go in the laundry. If you are using the laundry, put in extra detergent and use hot water.

Keep in mind that the act of bathing your dog could expose you to poison ivy oils. Therefore, consider wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt while bathing your dog. After you’re done bathing your dog, it’s a good idea to bathe yourself, too.

How to treat poison ivy on dogs

If you notice a red rash on your dog, you should contact your veterinarian. Although it could be poison ivy, there are other more common causes of rashes and skin inflammation in dogs, such as fleas, environmental allergies, or skin infections.

If your veterinarian suspects that the rash is poison ivy, they may recommend a topical steroid cream like triamcinolone or a short course of oral steroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation and itchiness. If your dog has been scratching at the poison ivy, potentially causing infection, then the veterinarian will recommend antibiotics such as the topical antibiotic ointment Animax® or an oral antibiotic like cephalexin. After prescribing any necessary medications, your veterinarian will provide advice on how you can treat your dog's poison ivy at home.

If your dog ate poison ivy and is now vomiting or having diarrhea, you should contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will not only treat the symptoms, but they’ll want to verify what plant your pup ate. Other plants with significant toxicity to dogs can cause vomiting and diarrhea, so it's best to make sure it actually was poison ivy. It’s extremely helpful if you take a photo or bring a sample of the plant with you.

Vomiting will usually be managed with anti-nausea medications like maropitant (Cerenia®). Diarrhea may be treated with antidiarrheal medications like kaopectate, or your veterinarian may recommend short-term feeding of a bland diet or prescription gastrointestinal diet. If your dog is dehydrated from vomiting or having diarrhea, the veterinarian may also recommend administering fluids, usually subcutaneously (under the skin).

Tips for avoiding poison ivy on dogs

When it comes to poison ivy prevention for dogs, the most important thing you can do is learn what poison ivy and its relatives look like. Oklahoma State University’s Cooperative Extension Service provides great pictures of poison ivy and poison oak, as well as other plants frequently mistaken for poison ivy. Once you can identify the plant, you can more easily avoid it on trails or remove it from your yard.

If you have large areas of poison ivy in your yard that cannot be removed, consider fencing these areas off to restrict your dog’s access to the plant.

When hiking in areas with poison ivy, wear protective clothing, especially long pants and long shirts. It’s a good idea to cover your car seats with a washable seat protector for the journey to and from the trail. Make sure to wash your dog after hiking.

Knowing how to prevent poison ivy in dogs protects both you and your dog from this itchy condition.

Relieving itch and discomfort

If your pet is itchy and uncomfortable after exposure to poison ivy, speak with your veterinarian. They may be able to prescribe medications that reduce the itch, particularly topical or oral steroids. They can also rule out other contributing causes of skin inflammation and itchiness and treat any secondary infections.

Other steps you can take at home to relieve discomfort include:

  • Giving your dog soothing oatmeal baths, which is a good natural remedy for poison ivy in dogs
  • Placing protective clothing on your pet, or using an e-collar, so they can't scratch or chew at skin lesions
  • Asking your veterinarian for over-the-counter dosing for antihistamines

Do not use Calamine lotion on your dog. This lotion contains zinc oxide as its active ingredient, which is toxic to dogs.

Pet insurance and poison ivy

Because poison ivy reactions are not very common in dogs, you may have difficulty finding poison ivy specifically listed as something a plan covers. However, most comprehensive pet insurance plans will cover dermatitis, gastrointestinal upset, or anaphylaxis. Your pet insurance plan may consider the condition pre-existing if your pet has seen a veterinarian for poison ivy exposure before or if your pet has a known history of skin or gastrointestinal issues. If your pet’s symptoms occur due to known exposure to the plant, some accident-only plans may cover medical costs much in the way they would any other toxin exposure.

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