What is Poison Oak Poisoning?
Many people have heard of poison oak through their own experiences with it. It is a plant that causes skin irritation in many who come into contact with it, and is a plant that should be avoided if at all possible. In dogs, this shrub or climbing vine can cause a similar skin irritation as well as eye and throat irritation. If you witnessed your dog rubbing against, chewing, or ingesting poison oak, you should alert your veterinarian. Do not wait for symptoms to appear; act immediately to avoid a very unpleasant experience for your canine companion.
Poison oak can be found all across North America as a dense shrub or in the form of a climbing vine. It is best known for causing a rash in humans who are allergic to it. It may also be toxic to your dog if he ingests it. If you witness your dog ingesting any part of the poison oak plant you need to contact your veterinarian immediately.
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Symptoms of Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs
While there has been no reported case of death caused by poison oak in dogs, they may still develop toxicity symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Skin irritation
- Eye irritation
- Respiratory distress
- Trouble swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes
Every dog reacts to poison oak differently. If you believe your dog is having an allergic reaction, you need to get them to their veterinarian as soon as possible.
Poison oak’s scientific name is Toxicodendron diversilobum. If in the open sunlight, poison oak grows in a dense shrub like formation; if in the shade, poison oak tends to be found as climbing vine. The leaves have scalloped edges and commonly grow in clusters ranging from three to nine leaves. Each leaf can grow up to four inches long, has a yellow-green or reddish color and can produce greenish-white or tan berries.
Causes of Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs
Poison oak contains a toxic sap known as urushiol. This sap does not sit on the surface of the leaf, but if there is any damage to the plant, the toxin is released. Poison oak is considered delicate so damage to the plant can be caused by something as gentle as wind or something brushing up against it. The urushiol toxin penetrates the skin and binds to proteins in the cell membranes. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes for urushiol to bond to the cells. This toxin does not dissolve in water which makes it difficult to wash off.
Also, if you or anyone nearby is burning poison oak, it can produce a fume not only toxic to your dog but to you as well. This will lead to symptoms of severe respiratory distress.
Diagnosis of Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs
When you first arrive at the veterinarian’s office, she will begin by performing a physical exam on your dog. This will allow for proper assessment of symptoms and vitals. She will check for any type of skin irritation by looking closely at areas with less fur, around his eyes and his mouth. Also, if your dog is obsessively scratching at an area, she will investigate the cause of the itch. If a rash or skin irritation is present, your veterinarian may take a skin scraping. With this sample, she will be able to look at the contents under a microscope to rule out parasites or bacteria.
Laboratory work may be performed to ensure the toxin from the poison oak is not affecting your dog’s internal organs. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry profile may be performed to give the veterinarian a broad baseline of how everything is functioning. A urinalysis may also be performed to further evaluate kidney function. A packed cell volume (PCV) may also be done to determine any degree of anemia or dehydration.
If you saw your dog come into contact with this plant and then develop symptoms of toxicity, take a piece of the plant with you to the veterinarian. Be sure to use caution when collecting a piece by using personal protection such as gloves and transporting it in a closed container.
Treatment of Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog is suffering any type of respiratory distress, he will be started on oxygen immediately. If his oxygen saturation is a little low, your veterinarian may put him in an oxygen cage or on oxygen via flow by. If his saturation is very low or potentially fatal, the veterinarian may need to intubate and keep him on oxygen via intubation until he stabilizes.
If there are any signs of swelling, your veterinarian may administer an antihistamine. This should address the swelling of the face, eyes, skin, throat or any other area. If there is any type of eye irritation, she may try to wash out your dog’s eyes. If your dog is experiencing any amount of dehydration, fluid therapy will be administered to correct it and prevent it from becoming more severe.
If you witness your dog coming into contact with poison oak and you are able to wash the contaminated area with cool water in less than 15 minutes, you may be able to avoid a reaction. If contamination does result in a rash, the veterinarian may prescribe a medication in cream or ointment form for you to apply periodically to the affected area. Hydrocortisone can help with the itching as well as antihistamine pills, such as Benadryl. It is best to seek veterinary attention for proper medications because many over the counter medications will actually make the rash worse or cause a severe allergic reaction.
Recovery of Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs
While there have been no reported deaths in dogs from poison oak, prognosis of recovery will depend on what symptoms your dog is suffering from. If he is only experiencing mild symptoms, prognosis of recovery is good. However, if he is suffering severe symptoms, without veterinary attention, prognosis of a full recovery is poor. If he is experiencing respiratory difficulties, you must seek veterinary care immediately. If you do not, consequences can be fatal.
Other symptoms, such as swelling, will regress in time, but administration of an antihistamine will shorten recovery time. Any type of skin irritation will cease to exist over a period of days to months without causing serious detriment to your dog.