If you’ve ever had a first-hand encounter with Poison Ivy, you’ll know how painful the experience can be. Red, inflamed, itchy skin, blisters, fever… with symptoms like these, it’s little wonder that parents still give their kids that age-old piece of advice, “Leaves of three, let it be.” But what about our pets? Are dogs as vulnerable to the nasty effects of Poison Ivy as us? Thankfully, they’re not. Dogs rarely suffer any kind of adverse reaction to the plant, and most can happily scamper through fields of the stuff without suffering any kind of problem. But note the operative words of ‘rarely’ and ‘most’. While it’s uncommon, dogs can occasionally experience a bad reaction. Considering that the symptoms can be just as unpleasant for them as they are for us, it’s better to play on the side of caution and take precautions.
While dogs rarely suffer any ill effects from coming into contact with Poison Ivy, it can happen. If your dog has sensitive skin, it’s best to keep them well away from the plant, just in case. If you do happen to visit an area where you spot Poison Ivy, wash your dog’s skin and coat with a mild shampoo as soon as you can. As their skin may be feeling sensitive, a shampoo designed for babies or puppies is often best. Alternatively, try one made with soothing oatmeal and aloe.
Once you’ve finished shampooing, treat them to an apple cider vinegar rinse. Simply fill a spray bottle with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar to one cup of water, mix, then spray a fine mist over their coat, taking care to avoid their mouth, ears, and nose. Although the vinegar might sting a little on application, its itch relieving properties will make it worth it. Be sure to wear gloves throughout the procedure, and wash any towels you use (along with the clothes you’re wearing) as soon as you’ve finished.
Even if they don’t suffer any form of reaction themselves, there’s still the chance their coat could be carrying enough of the plant’s oil to pass to you or another member of the household. Washing them even when the chances of them developing a reaction is slim to none is thus as much a way to protect you as it is them.
Symptoms of Poison Ivy Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog’s going to suffer any kind of reaction to Poison Ivy, it’s most likely to be in the form of contact dermatitis, an uncomfortable condition that can cause intense itching, a raised, inflamed rash, scabs, and blisters. As the condition develops and the oils start to sink further into the skin, the blisters may start to pop and ooze puss. You might also notice your dog starts to chew or bite themselves as a reaction to the irritation. The severity of the dermatitis will depend on several factors, including how much of the dog’s skin was exposed to the plant, and how much natural resistance they have to its effects.
If your dog has taken a bite of the plant, their reaction is likely to be more severe. Poison Ivy, when ingested, can cause severe blistering to any parts of the digestive tract, mouth, and stomach it comes into contact with, resulting in severe discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In some (thankfully very rare) cases, it can even lead to death.
The ‘At Risk’ Category
As Top Dog Tips notes, some breeds are more likely to suffer a severe response to Poison Ivy than others. The risk comes less from a genetic predisposition and more from the fact that some breeds have either very short hair or none at all, thus exposing greater areas of their skin to the irritating effects of the plant.
“Although there may be breed-specific predilections for an allergic response to Poison Ivy, it is more likely related to the dog’s fur coverage (more exposed skin is more likely to come in contact with the plant and react) and height (shorter stature dogs may brush up against the plants, especially on their bellies, which have little to no fur),” Dr. Hayley Adams, a veterinarian and board-certified diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Microbiology and the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, tells AKC.
The breeds most at risk include:
- Chinese Crested
- Mexican Hairless
- Pit Bull
- Jack Russell
- Short Haired Chihuahua
- Hungarian Vizsla
What To Do Next
If your dog comes into contact with Poison Ivy, washing their skin and coat should be your first port of call. However, regardless of how thorough you are, some of the plant’s oils could remain on their coat for some time to come. Unfortunately, this means there’s still the chance they could ingest some of its toxic oils well after you thought the danger period had passed. As Wag Walking notes, there’s also the possibility that some of those oils could transfer to you or your family, either by direct petting or through secondary contact with something they’ve touched.
Stay vigilant and be prepared to deal with any reaction (either yours or theirs) by stocking up on calamine lotion (just be sure to use a cone collar to stop them lapping it up) and coconut oil (a great natural solution to itchy skin).
If their reaction worsens despite your best efforts, you’ll need to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. If your dog suffers any kind of autoimmune condition, don’t wait – if they come into contact with Poison Ivy, book an appointment without delay. Depending on the type and severity of reaction, your vet will likely prescribe a course of treatment. Typical treatments include topical antihistamine, Benadryl, charcoal, or even antibiotics. In the vast majority of cases, dogs react well to treatment, and should be back to their normal happy selves within just a few days.