Plants like poison ivy, oak, and sumac can lead to much frustration for those exposed to them. The oil of these plants causes an allergic reaction that leads to an itchy rash on the skin it touches.
What happens if your pet is exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac? Dogs and cats do not usually experience reactions to poison ivy, oak, and sumac. However, pets can spread the oil to humans. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent this.
Pets and Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac contain a type of sap or oil called urushiol that may trigger an allergic reaction when it comes in contact with the skin. The fragile leaves of these plants make it easy for the oil to be released when brushing against the leaves. Urushiol is also found on the stems and berries of these plants. The oil can also remain on fabrics and other objects for a long time, allowing exposure down the road.
Animals may become exposed to it by walking through the plants and getting the plant oil on their coats and skin. Fortunately, dogs and cats rarely experience allergic reactions from urushiol. This is mainly because their coats protect their skin from exposure to the oil and their skin is not usually sensitive to the oils in the way humans are.
Even if your pets seem unaffected by poison ivy, oak, and sumac, be aware that your dog or cat can spread the plant oil to you and other people. Most humans are allergic to urushiol and will develop a rash.
Note that poison ivy, oak, and sumac are not toxic to dogs and cats if eaten. However, the plant oils should be removed from the pet's coat to avoid transmission to humans in the home.
What to Do if Your Pet Was Exposed to Urushiol
If you think your pet was exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, you will need to bathe your pet as soon as possible to prevent exposure to yourself and other people. Before bathing your dog or cat, make sure to take steps to protect yourself from contact with the allergenic plant oil.
- Wear rubber or nitrile gloves.
- Wear a protective gown or long-sleeved shirt
- Or, apply a barrier cream to any exposed skin not protected by gloves. Ideally, choose a lotion that contains bentoquatum as this acts as a shield against urushiol.
- Rinse your pet with copious amounts of lukewarm or cool water for a long period of time.
- Obtain a degreasing pet shampoo or pet safe detergent that will break up the oil on the coat. Choose an anti-seborrheic or keratolytic shampoo designed for pets. Or, use Dawn dishwashing detergent as this is safe and effective at removing oils from the coat.
- Apply plenty of shampoo to your pet's coat. Massage the shampoo into your pet's coat well, creating a lather. Be sure to coat all parts of the coat but avoid the eyes, ears, and genital area.
- Rinse your pet thoroughly with lukewarm or cool water.
- Dry your pet well and offer a yummy treat as a reward!
Removing Urushiol Oils From Objects and Surfaces
Be mindful of items that your pet has been in contact with that might be contaminated with urushiol. These must be properly cleaned to avoid exposure to the oil. Be sure to wear gloves when handling these items.
Clean your pet's leash and collar thoroughly with a degreasing detergent like Dawn dish soap. Wash pet bedding, clothing, towels used for bathing, and other materials that can be laundered using the hottest water possible and extra detergent. A second wash may be helpful to remove all plant oil. Thoroughly hand wash any other fabrics that can't go in the washing machine. Scrub carpets with a carpet cleaner.
Non-Porous Objects and Surfaces
Use a degreasing spray detergent or rubbing alcohol to remove traces of urushiol from things like grooming tools, garden tools, pet toys, pet bowls, or anything else that may have the plant oil on them. Be sure pet items are rinsed and dried before your pet uses them again.
Removing Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Plants
If there is poison ivy, oak, or sumac in your pet's environment, then your pet will likely continue to brush against it, risking exposure to humans. The best thing to do is to remove these plants. In many places you can also hire an experienced team to identify and remove the plants if you are not confident in your ability to identify them and remove them safely. If you decide to attempt it on your own, here are some helpful reminders:
- Wear protective clothing, gloves, and barrier cream (if needed) when working around poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
- Remove all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems, and roots.
- Cut the plants cleanly at the ground level with shears or pruners. Avoid ripping or tearing the vines as this will release the oil.
- Dig out the roots using a shovel.
- Place the plants and roots in a bag for disposal.
- Spray remaining roots and stubs with a weed killer. Ideally, use a natural weed killer containing vinegar. Or, use a chemical that contains glyphosate or triclopyr.
- Keep pets away from the sprayed area, especially if harsh chemicals were used.
- Consider planting grass in the area where the plants were as this will prevent poison ivy, oak, and sumac from growing there.
- Dispose of your gloves and clothing or wash them thoroughly in hot water with detergent.
Never burn poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants. Burning releases the oils in the air, which can cause serious respiratory signs and allergic reactions. Reactions to this allergen are common and may occur at any time in a person's life, even if you weren't previously sensitive to poison oak, ivy, or sumac.
Kim, Yesul et al. Poison Ivy, Oak, And Sumac Dermatitis. Dermatitis, vol 30, no. 3, 2019, pp. 183-190. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/der.0000000000000472
Poison Ivy. Animal Poison Control Center
Poisonous Plants. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)