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Golden retriever dog scratching

Fun Fact: Dog's rarely get a skin rash from poison ivy

The essentials

  • Dogs can get poison ivy — Dogs are more likely to ingest it than get a skin rash because they have fur.
  • Poison ivy in dogs and in humans looks very similar — The main symptom is a swollen, itchy skin rash.
  • It’s easy to treat poison ivy in dogs A soothing bath will typically do the trick, but watch out for symptoms of a severe reaction.

Unfortunately, dogs can get poison ivy rashes just like humans can. But because a dog’s fur usually protects their skin from exposure, canine poison ivy is rarer than human cases.

If your dog does develop an itchy rash, it’s simple to treat. Whether you’re planning a hiking trip or you’ve already noticed a rash on your dog, you should know which plants to steer clear of, as well as how to identify and treat a poison ivy reaction.

Urushiol is what causes the itchy redness

The reason poison ivy and several other poisonous plants cause an allergic reaction when touched is because they secrete a substance called urushiol. This oily sap seeps out of the leaves, stems and even the roots of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These three plants make up the Toxicodendron group of plants. Urushiol is quickly absorbed by skin once touched, making it even more dangerous.

People and dogs who spend time walking through vegetation are more likely to come in contact with poison ivy. If you plan to go camping with your dog, studying up on poisonous plants could save both you and your dog a lot of discomfort. It’s also best practice to keep your dog on a leash so that they don’t go wandering into thick brush.

The Toxicodendron genus: Poisonous plants to avoid

Poison Ivy

closeup of poison ivy

up close and personal with the poison ivy

The poison ivy plant grows in every state except Hawaii and Alaska, and you don’t have to venture into the woods to find it. In addition to wooded areas, poison ivy can sprout up in coastal areas, suburbs, and cities.

It’s especially common to find this poisonous plant near a water source, such as a river. Like other types of foliage, poison ivy changes color with the season. The most important thing to remember is —  you guessed it — those “leaves of three.”

Poison Oak

poison oak

lots of poison oak

Just like poison ivy, poison oak plants typically have three leaves and can be a range of colors. However, poison oak may have fuzzy, deeper-ridged leaves and pale-yellow berries. Poison oak is more common in the Western United States, but can also be found throughout much of North America.

Poison Sumac

poison sumac

poison sumac

The final member of the urushiol trio is a little bit different. Poison sumac is taller, resembling a small tree or shrub, and typically has 7 to 13 oval-shaped, smooth leaves. Commonly found in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest, poison sumac thrives in swamps and other damp environments.

Symptoms of poison ivy rash in dogs

Since the irritant (urushiol) is the same for poison ivy, oak and sumac, exposure to any of these plants will cause a similar reaction. The poisonous urushiol has to make contact with the dog’s skin in order to cause a reaction, so it’s most common to see the irritation appear in areas with less fur and in dogs with very thin fur coats. Your dog also may bite, chew or scratch the area excessively, alerting you to the situation.

The symptoms of poison ivy and other poisonous plant exposure are similar in humans and animals.

  • Skin inflammation (acute contact dermatitis)
  • Blisters or scabs
  • Raised bumps
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness

What happens if your dog eats poison ivy

Usually, a dog that eats poison ivy will simply have gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, or diarrhea. It’s possible, however, for dogs to have a severe allergic reaction or even go into anaphylactic shock. For this reason, ingestion poses much more of a health risk than skin exposure. If you think your dog has ingested a poisonous plant, keep a close eye out for symptoms of a severe reaction.

🛑 If you think your dog is having a severe allergic reaction from skin exposure or ingestion, call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661

Other reasons your dog may be itching

Aside from poison ivy, there are several other reasons your dog could be scratching. Fleas and other parasites, infections, and allergies can all cause similar skin irritations. If you aren’t sure if the rash is from a poisonous plant, it’s probably best to take your dog in for veterinary inspection.

How to treat poison ivy in dogs

Anyone who’s had a poison ivy reaction knows that it’s uncomfortable and nearly impossible not to scratch. To minimize your furry pal’s pain, you should act quickly; your dog’s repeated scratching and chewing at the area can cause the skin to tear and become infected. Luckily, poison ivy in dogs is easily treated, but treatment is different depending if they’ve brushed up against poison ivy or ingested it

For skin exposure

If your dog has come into contact with poison ivy, whether the rash has appeared yet or not, the first thing you should do is cover your own skin. Since humans have much more exposed skin, the poisonous sap can be transmitted from pet to dog owners very easily. The best way to protect yourself from the affected area while helping your dog is to wear gloves.

You will need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Oatmeal dog shampoo or Dawn dish soap
  • Cone or e-collar

With your rubber gloves on, you can bathe your dog with warm water and oatmeal shampoo for dogs. If you don’t have oatmeal soap or quick access to it, Dawn or other dish soaps can also help break up and wash away the urushiol oils, though it may take a few days for the rash to subside. In the meantime, you can use an e-collar, or “cone,” to prevent excessive itching.

Monitor the area closely for 24 hours to ensure that the rash is improving. If it isn’t, or if it worsens, you should bring your dog to your veterinarian for an inspection. Your veterinarian may recommend Benadryl for your dog or another antihistamine to stop the itching.

Preventing your dog from spreading poison ivy symptoms

The best way to prevent your dog from spreading poison ivy symptoms to others is to act quickly. The more quickly you wash away the urushiol, the fewer chances they have to rub against you, your furniture, and your family members. If you’re not able to get to a bath quickly, wash the area with water and minimize the amount of contact your dog has with you and your belongings. Though it may be tempting, no petting!

After you’ve given your pooch a soothing bath, you should wash any clothing or towels that come into contact with the poison ivy areas– that includes their collar, bedding and anything else they’ve touched.

What to do if your dog eats poison ivy

Usually, a dog who ingests poison ivy will experience nothing worse than some mild stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, which should pass fairly quickly. However, it is still a greater health risk than skin exposure because of the potential for an allergic reaction. If these symptoms don’t stop, or you notice fever or loss of appetite too, you should take your dog to the vet.

When to take your dog to a veterinarian

Though it’s rarely needed, don’t be hesitant to see a veterinarian if something seems wrong. In rare cases, dogs can have a severe reaction to poison ivy. Some cases will require special attention.

  • If the rash doesn’t clear up in several days or if it continues to spread
  • If the area becomes infected due to the scratching and open sores
  • If your dog is feverish or loses their appetite