Many of us have learned the hard way to steer clear of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. But what if you find your dog rolling around in a bed of shiny, green “leaves of three?”
Before you start sympathy scratching, here’s what you need to know about the risks poison ivy, oak, and sumac pose to your pup.
- Can dogs get poison ivy? Yes!
- Can dogs get poison oak? Yes!
- Can dogs get poison sumac? Yes!
- Can dogs give you poison ivy? Yes!
Dr. Patrik Holmboe, DVM, head veterinarian at telemedicine provider Cooper Pet Care warns that “dogs can get poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rashes.”1 However, Pet Poison Helpline notes that these itchy rashes are not as common in dogs as they are in humans.2
Despite the word “poison” in their names, poison ivy, oak, and sumac aren’t actually poisonous. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control Center, all three plants are categorized as non-toxic.3 But they do contain a potent allergen called urushiol, an oil which could cause an itchy rash.
Philadelphia-based veterinarian Dr. Laura Strong, DVM, of Community Vet Partners explains, ”Dogs are generally less sensitive to urushiol oil than humans and may not develop a reaction as severe as a person might. Additionally, dogs’ fur can offer some protection against the oil, as it may keep the oil from coming into direct contact with their skin.”4
While that means your dog is not as susceptible to the effects of poison ivy, oak, or sumac, that doesn’t mean they’re immune. “Rashes can absolutely happen if dogs come into contact with the plants in an area without much fur — such as the belly, for example,” warns Holboe. “There, the reaction can vary from mild to severe.” The plant may also cause irritation or swelling in the mouth and throat if your dog eats poison ivy.
Unless you witness your dog nosing around irritating plants, you may not realize they’ve been exposed until they develop symptoms of contact dermatitis. However, dogs scratch a lot, and not every rash is the result of poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
If you’ve ever suffered a poison ivy rash yourself, it may be easier to spot the telltale signs. Holmboe says poison ivy, oak, and sumac often cause the same types of rashes on dogs as they do on humans. Here are some specific symptoms of poison ivy on dogs to watch for:
However, not all symptoms are external. If dogs ingests the leaves or licks the oils of poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, they can experience the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth or throat swelling
- Anaphylactic shock
Though severe reactions to poison ivy, oak, and sumac are rare in dogs, the situation could be more serious for dogs that have ingested urushiol. An allergic response that causes swelling in the mouth or throat could obstruct a dog’s airways and cause breathing issues.
It’s highly advised to contact your veterinarian if your dog is having trouble breathing or if you suspect your dog ate poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
Pet parents can provide relief for mild cases at home. The sooner you can ease the itch of contact dermatitis rashes, the better. Here’s how veterinarians recommend treating your dog to help prevent secondary infections and get your pup feeling better fast.
Whether you saw your dog romping through a field of poison ivy or they’ve developed telltale symptoms, removing the allergen with mild soap or dog shampoo is key.
“First, clean the affected area with mild soap and water,” advises Holmboe. “The soap helps remove any additional oil that is still present on the skin.”
Consider using protective latex or nitrile gloves, as the oil could transfer onto your skin and give you a rash as well. For good measure, wash your clothing and anything else your dog may have been in direct contact with to remove any remaining oils.
Once your dog is washed, you’ll want to soothe their itchy skin. This can help prevent secondary infections by reducing excessive scratching.
Pet parents can choose from a wide variety of topical treatments that can help relieve itching and promote healing, says Strong. However, calamine lotion, often used to treat poison ivy rashes on humans, is toxic to dogs if ingested.
For immediate relief, Strong recommends applying a cool compress to affected areas. A soothing oatmeal bath or oatmeal shampoo may also be helpful.
While most cases of poison ivy, oak, or sumac rashes on dogs don’t require a visit to the veterinarian, Holmboe recommends contacting your vet if you’re concerned about your pet or their symptoms, saying, “If the rash is severe or accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing, dog parents should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.”
If merited, your veterinarian may recommend a more aggressive form of treatment to provide relief, says Dr. Nicole Savageau, DVM, with The Vets mobile veterinary clinics. “In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help manage the symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as antihistamines or corticosteroids.”5
The best way to minimize the impact of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac on your dog is to avoid exposure in the first place. But with curious dogs, that can be a bit of a challenge. Here’s some helpful advice from the experts about how to prevent poison ivy, oak, or sumac from giving your dog an itchy rash.
- Avoid high-risk areas. These plants can grow anywhere from forests and fields to your own backyard. Always be on the lookout and guide your dog away from plants that look like poison ivy, oak, or sumac. To be on the safe side, stick to cleared paths free of undergrowth and dense, wooded areas, where the hazardous plants might be hard to spot.
- Clean up after your walk. When you come home from any excursion with your dog, Holmboe recommends getting in the habit of cleaning your dog's feet and the fur on their belly with a dog-safe cleanser or soap and water to remove any potential allergens.
- Consider protective gear. If you live in an area where poison ivy, oak, or sumac are prevalent, or if your dog tends to have a severe allergic reaction, Holmboe recommends using protective clothing to cover your dog while out on a walk. You can put them in booties or a dog shirt. Just don’t forget to wash the gear after each use to prevent cross-contamination.
- Rid your yard of any hazardous plants. If you find the offending shrubs or vines in your yard or on your property, get rid of them entirely. Just be sure that the method you use is pet-friendly, as many commercial herbicides that target poison ivy contain chemicals that could be hazardous to your dog. Spraying the plants with vinegar is a great option!
Don’t let these or any other irritating plants stop you and your pets from exploring. While you should be cautious, hiking with your dog is a fun activity that provides exercise and quality bonding with your furry pal. Learning what plants to avoid and how to care for your dog if they come into contact with one is a great way to protect them.
If you and your dog are adventurers, consider investing in dog insurance.
Get started today with a free quote from MetLife Pet Insurance.