Poison ivy is a common plant known to cause allergic reactions in many people, causing red, itchy rashes on the skin. Dogs can easily be exposed to poison ivy, but it may not affect them in the same way it affects people.
Can Dogs Get Poison Ivy?
Technically, dogs can be affected by poison ivy, but it's uncommon. A dog's coat may act as a barrier to protect the skin from urushiol, the irritating oil/sap found in poison ivy. Urushiol is also found in poison oak and sumac. Some dogs will react to urushiol if it touches their skin, but many experience no reaction.
How Poison Ivy Affects Dogs
Dogs may be exposed to poison ivy through direct contact with the skin when walking through the plants. The fragile leaves release oil or sap onto to coat and exposed skin. Dogs that are sensitive to urushiol may experience a reaction if it gets on their skin. This causes an itchy rash that will get worse if the dog scratches, licks, or chews the affected area.
Dogs may experience irritation to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract if they lick, chew, or eat poison ivy plants. Some dogs enjoy grazing or nibbling on grass and leaves, and mistakenly ingesting poison ivy in the process.
It's important for owners to know that dogs can carry urushiol on their coats and pass it onto humans.
Signs of Poison Ivy Reaction in Dogs
How to Spot Poison Ivy
Poison ivy can be found all over the continental United States and is prevalent in wooded areas like forests, wetlands, and fields. It can also be found in parks, residential neighborhoods, or cities. The plants grow with three leaves that can be glossy or dull. The middle leaf typically has a longer stem than the leaves on the sides. Poison ivy may grow as a shrub or in a climbing vine. When in doubt, avoid plants with three leaves.
There are ways to protect yourself and your dog from reactions after exposure to poison ivy. It's important to bathe your dog as soon as possible to remove urushiol from his coat. Wear gloves and protective clothing on your skin so you will not come into contact with the oil from poison ivy. Bathe your dog with a pet-safe shampoo or degreasing agent. Choose an anti-seborrheic, keratolytic, or colloidal oatmeal shampoo designed for dogs. You can also use Dawn dish soap to bathe your dog. Be sure to protect your dog's eyes by applying mineral oil or eye lubricating ointment prior to bathing. Follow with a dog-specific conditioner to moisturize the skin and coat.
Contact your veterinarian if your dog develops a skin rash after poison ivy exposure. Your dog may need to be treated with topical and/or oral medications to reduce itching and irritation. An e-collar may be necessary to keep your dog from licking or chewing the affected area.
Poison ivy is not toxic if ingested, but it may cause discomfort to your dog. Offer water to your dog if he has been eating, licking, or chewing on poison ivy leaves. You may also wish to rinse out the mouth to remove urushiol residue and reduce irritation. You can rinse the mouth with water, saline, or diluted black tea; just make sure it is cool in temperature. Contact your veterinarian if you notice drooling, mouth sores, and/or vomiting. Your dog may need medication to treat nausea and inflammation.
How to Prevent Poison Ivy Exposure
You can reduce your dog's exposure to poison ivy at home by identifying it in your yards and carefully removing it. Wear protective gloves and clothing while cutting out poison ivy growth. Use a pet-safe weed killer on the remaining stems and roots. Check your yard frequently for regrowth.
Keep your dog on a leash as much as possible during walks and hikes to reduce exposure to poison ivy. Watch your dog closely if you allow him off the leash. Do not allow your dog to roam freely. Poison ivy may be mixed in with other plant growth along trails, paths, and roads. Your dog can easily wander through it without your knowledge.