Getting Rid of Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac on Pets

poison ivy plant
Ed Reschke / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Poisonous plants like poison ivy, oak and sumac can be a nightmare for anyone exposed to them. The oil of these plants spreads an itchy rash across any skin it comes in contact with it. What happens if your pet runs through a patch of poison ivy? Dogs and cats do not react to poison ivy, but they can spread it to you. You will need to know how to bathe your dog or cat after it has been exposed to poison ivy to prevent being exposed yourself.

The Spread of Poison

Dogs and cats do not suffer the allergenic effects of poison ivy, sumac, or oak like humans do, but they can transmit the oil of these plants to humans on their hair. This means that your pet can bring you poison ivy oil (and related toxic oil) even though you haven't been in contact with the plants yourself.

The Plant Oil

The oil responsible for the rashes and blisters that sensitive humans suffer from is called urushiol. This oil is very hardy and long-lived and may persist in the environment (and on clothing, sleeping bags, etc.) for years. This means the oil will likely remain on your pets' fur until you wash them.

Getting Rid of Urushiol Oils on Your Pets

If you suspect your dog or cat has gotten into some poisonous plants a bath is in order. Here are some tips to make the pet bathing as effective as possible for removing this stubborn plant oil without exposing yourself to it:

  • Wear rubber gloves.
  • Use a barrier cream, such as a lotion containing¬†bentoquatum, on your arms and any exposed skin not protected by gloves.
  • Use copious amounts of cool water, for a long period of time.
  • Use a "degreasing" soap, such as Dawn dishwashing detergent, to remove the oils from your pet's coat.

Getting Rid of Urushiol Oils on Tools and Surfaces

After you bathe your pet it's important to remember that the plant oil can remain on any grooming tools you used. Once you're done giving Fido his bath you'll want to give anything that may have come in contact with the oil a good washing as well. This also goes for any clothes you might be wearing at the time.

  • Wear rubber gloves.
  • Use copious amounts of water
  • Use rubbing alcohol (isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol) and lots of soap.
  • Discard cloth and clothing items if possible, otherwise, wash in hot water with lots of detergent.

Getting Rid of Urushiol Oils in the Environment

Your pet will continue to pick up oil from poison oak and related plants if they are growing in areas your pet plays. You will need to get rid of these plants to prevent continuous exposure.

It is very important to not burn these plants. Burning releases the oils in the air, potentially causing very serious 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.

Here are some safety tips for removing these plants:

  • Wear protective clothing, gloves, and barrier cream as when washing an exposed pet.
  • Cut the plants cleanly at ground level with shears or pruners, trying not to rip or tear the vines and 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 containing glyphosate (Roundup) or triclopyr (Ortho's Brush-B-Gon).
  • Dispose of your gloves and clothing or wash well in hot water with detergent.