Can Dogs Get Poison Oak?

Home > Dog Wellness > Can Dogs Get Poison Oak?

Whether your pooch spends most of their time indoors or dashing around the backyard, at some point, they will explore new territories. Perhaps this occurs on a hike during a camping trip or a visit to a family member’s secluded ranch.

In rural areas, foliage flourishes and the likelihood of your dog encountering harmful plants rises. Top enemies in this regard are poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac. All of these plants are in the same genus known as Toxicodendron. And toxic indeed, as any hiker or summer adventurer will come to realize after unknowingly brushing against these three-leafed plants.

As dog owners, our outdoor activities are likely to include our four-legged friends, and may cause us to wonder: Are dogs susceptible to poisonous plants?  

Can Dogs Get Poison Oak?

YES!

While dogs aren’t nearly as susceptible to poison oak, ivy, or sumac as we are, it is possible for them to have an allergic reaction to these toxic plants. However, many veterinarians caution pet owners to not treat red, itchy patches of skin on their animals as reactions to poison oak, as these could be a symptom of several different ailments.

When dogs react adversely to contact with poisons plants, it’s typically the result of exposure to irritating oils on the leaves. Because dogs are covered in a protective layer of fur, they are typically safe from harmful reactions to toxic plants. In theory, the furrier the dog, the least likely they are to gain rashes from poison oak, ivy or sumac.

Some dogs may be more susceptible than others: Dachshunds and corgis, for example, with their short legs and relatively furless bellies, are more likely to react to poisonous plants they walk over, as the leaves will tickle the unprotected skin on their stomachs.

Does My Dog Have a Skin Reaction to Poison Oak or Ivy?

While it’s unlikely your pet is suffering from a reaction to poison oak or ivy, the slim chance that they are is enough to cause worry. The symptoms for a dog experiencing an adverse reaction to Toxicodendron are similar to that of a human’s:

  • Red patch of skin

  • Uncontrollable itching (dogs will do this by scratching, licking, and biting at their skin)

More severe symptoms may include:

  • Fever (indicated by a dry, warm nose)

  • Lethargy

  • Inflammation of skin

  • Possible infection from broken pustules

Causes

Skin irritation from poison oak or ivy is caused by even the smallest amount of contact to the toxic oils in its leaves, off-white berries, and hairy stems, especially when this contact is directly on exposed skin.


Diagnosis

If skin irritation continues for more than two to three days, especially if this is combined with hair loss, extreme discomfort in the dog, or spreading of red coloration, seek the advice of a veterinarian.

Typically, veterinarians diagnosis skin reactions simply by surveying the dog and asking you a few questions about their behavior and when the rash began to occur. If a skin reaction develops blisters, you may want to consider other possibilities.

While poison oak and ivy reactions can gain small pustules full of clear liquid, the presence of many could be another dermatological issue. Review Skin Blisters and Pustules to see what else could be ailing your pup.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Irritated Skin?

Skin rashes can be caused by a number of things other than contact with poison oak, ivy, or sumac. Always reach out to a veterinarian before you begin treating your dog’s rash as a reaction to a poisonous plant.

The most important thing to control is the itching. Not just because it’s unpleasant for your pet, but because it’s the biggest threat to their health. Intense and constant itching may cause an infection.

Biting and itching will result in open skin, which is at risk of bacterial infection from the pustules on the skin as well as contamination from other foreign materials, such as dirt. Try these tactics to help:

  • Ask your veterinarian for a cone so that your dog can’t bite at their skin

  • Secure socks or booties on the back two paws or clip the nails to reduce the effectiveness of itching

  • Administer a topical cream or oral medicine from a veterinarian to help ease itchiness  

  • Bathe regularly using a safe, non-heavily-scented wash for dogs

  • Avoid spreading the poison oak by wearing gloves when petting or bathing your infected dog

Itching is a sign of irritation from poison oak or ivy, but it’s also the body’s way of healing the skin. As long as extreme scratching of the skin can be avoided, the skin will heal itself within one to three weeks.

To learn more about poison oak and what to do to help your dog, review Poison Oak Poisoning in Dogs.

How Is Poison Oak Similar in Dogs and Humans?

The irritating oils of the Toxicodendron plants affects humans and dogs in very similar ways, causing itchy, red patches of skin and sores. It’s also similar in these elements as well:

  • Gained through contact with the plant

  • Gained through contact with an active rash on another

  • Typically, goes away on its own within three weeks or less

How Is Poison Oak Different in Dogs and Humans?

The key difference between canine and human reactions to poisonous plants is that dogs are more protected from the harmful oils of these plants. Thanks to their coats, the amount of unprotected skin on their bodies is far less than ours, making us much more susceptible.

Case Study

You’re leaving town for a while, perhaps on a work-related trip or for a much-needed vacation, and while away you’ve decided to entrust a close family friend with your dog. This is a great option, you tell yourself, because not only is it cheaper than putting him up in a kennel or “doggy hotel”, it’s also better: with the family friend, he won’t be stuck inside all day around other dogs and people he isn’t familiar with. Plus, this family friend has a lot of open-acreage for your playful pup to bound and leap on.

A week later you return to a wagging tail and lots of loving licks. Your friend reports that everything went smoothly and you thank them for their hospitality before being on your way.

The next day, you notice your dog is itching and biting at the same spot repeatedly. You check for ticks and fleas, but find nothing. A little intuition and internet searching causes you to believe they’ve contracted poison oak, which is native to your area of the country.

After a visit to the vet, you’re sent home with proper medication and instructions. Within a week, the rash is cleared and your pet is back to his normal self.