6 min read

What to Do if Your Dog Has Poison Ivy

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Overview

If you've ever had a brush with poison ivy, you probably know not to touch it ever again. The intensely itchy rash and blisters that persist for days will make you want to avoid walking in the woods altogether. But did you know your woofer can react to poison ivy too?

Poison ivy isn't super common in dogs since their fluffy coat creates a protective barrier between them and the plant. However, if the plant makes contact with their skin, it can cause itchy and sometimes even life-threatening allergic reactions. Read on to discover how to protect your dog from poison ivy and how to treat reactions should your pet encounter it.


closeup of poison ivy leaves and stem

How to tell if your dog is having a reaction to poison ivy

Obviously, if you spot a rash after seeing your pet rolling in poison ivy, there's a high likelihood your dog is having an allergic reaction to it. However, dogs are sneaky, and pet parents might not always catch the dog in the act.

It's important to mention that, like humans, not all dogs have a noticeable skin reaction to urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy responsible for its skin-irritating properties. What's more, the type of contact the dog has with the plant (like whether they lie in it or decide to eat it) can determine how the symptoms manifest.

Symptoms of skin contact with poison ivy

Symptoms of poison ivy ingestion

Though rare, contact with poison ivy can cause some dogs to have a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis (or allergic shock). Take your dog to the vet immediately if they begin displaying symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction such as:



What to do if your dog gets into poison ivy

You walk outside to see your beloved pooch wallowing around in a patch of poison ivy — what should you do next? Here's what experts suggest doing to minimize poison ivy reactions and prevent the spread to other household members.

  1. Before handling your dog, put on gloves to prevent the transfer of urushiol from your pet’s fur to your skin or other pets. If you don’t have any gloves you can make a makeshift pair out of plastic bags and tape the ends around to your wrists to secure them.   

  2. Bathe your dog, taking care to scrub and rinse them multiple times with a good-quality dog shampoo. Rocco & Roxie’s SOOTHE Oatmeal Shampoo is a "grrreat" choice, but any quality shampoo with oatmeal and/or aloe will do. Pay special attention to the undercoat and body areas that have thin or no hair, like the stomach, ear flaps, and face.

  3. Urushiol can remain on clothing fibers for quite some time, so make sure you toss Fido's towel and your clothing in the washing machine as soon as you get done with bath time. 

  4. Some pet parents find applying coconut oil topically to their dog's problem areas can help with skin healing and itchiness. Be aware that many dogs like the taste of coconut oil, so you might find your pup licking it off before it has a chance to seep into the skin. 

  5. If your dog's rash is more moderate, you can treat it at home with calamine lotion to soothe the skin and help combat itchiness. But while this medication is nontoxic, it can cause tummy troubles if your dog ingests it. If you decide to go this route,  you might want to purchase an e-collar to use with it.  

  6. If your dog's rash worsens or they start displaying signs of allergic shock, you should get them to a vet as soon as possible. Likewise, if your pet eats poison ivy, it's a good idea to take them in to be checked out, just to be on the safe side. 


green poison ivy plant growing on tree log

How do vets diagnose and treat poison ivy?

When a dog arrives at the vet showing symptoms of poison ivy poisoning, the vet will start by examining the skin and asking the pet parent what their pet has potentially come in contact with.

Poison ivy produces rashes that are virtually indistinguishable from other forms of contact dermatitis, so unless the pet parent can identify the plant that caused the reaction, the vet will likely diagnose them with contact dermatitis. Luckily, these two skin conditions are usually treated the same way. However, dogs that have eaten poison ivy will require a much different treatment plan than those who only brush against the plant. 

The vet will typically start by administering antihistamines to help reduce the body's immune response and decrease swelling and inflammation. Most vets will use a topical antihistamine like hydrocortisone in combination with an oral antihistamine like Benadryl. If a dog has open sores from biting at the rash, the vet may prescribe an e-collar and a round of oral antibiotics to prevent skin infections.

Dogs displaying signs of poison ivy ingestion may be given activated charcoal to reduce the absorption of urushiol through the stomach lining. Depending on the severity of the reaction, some vets may choose to perform gastric lavage to remove the undigested plant matter.

The symptoms of mild poison ivy poisoning will usually resolve in a few weeks with proper treatment. Most vets will recommend that the patient comes back for a follow-up appointment to ensure the skin is healing correctly and there is no sign of infection.

The average cost for treatment of poison ivy poison ranges from $300 to $600 depending on condition severity and the treatment required.


How to prevent dogs from coming in contact with poison ivy

Not only can poison ivy cause an allergic reaction in your pet, but the plant's skin-irritating oils can also rub off on human family members, creating an itchy chain reaction. Here are a few ways you can reduce the chances of exposure to poison ivy.

  • Always take your dog out on a leash for walks or potty breaks. 
  • Regularly inspect your yard for poison ivy, paying careful attention to check around bushes, trees, or piles of wood. 
  • Cut your grass and weed-eat around your yard often.
  • Use weed killer if you find poison ivy, but make sure you follow the manufacturer's directions and keep Fido off the lawn for a few days after using herbicides.


white berries of the poison ivy plant

How to identify poison ivy

The best way to protect your pets from poison ivy is to learn how to identify the species that are native to your area. However, that's easier said than done since this plant has many variations. Below are some things to watch for when trying to identify poison ivy — and remember, when in doubt, leave it alone.

  • Eastern poison ivy may appear as creeping undergrowth or develop into a climbing vine.

  • Western poison ivy always appears as undergrowth and doesn't climb. 

  • Poison ivy vines start thin and are virtually unnoticeable. But as the plant grows upward in search of sunlight, the stem will become more prominent and increase to the size of a thick rope. 

  • Over time, poison ivy vines will produce aerial roots, giving the plant a "hairy" appearance. However, immature plants will not have these aerial roots. 

  • The leaves of eastern poison ivy form in clusters of three and may be smooth or have jagged sawtooth edges. 

  • The leaf color may change as the weather gets colder, changing from a vibrant green to red, yellow, or deep bronze. 

  • During the summer, some species of poison ivy will bloom and even bear fruit, displaying small, round berries and blossoms that range from light brown to yellow. 


Where does poison ivy grow?

If you're in the continental US, chances are you've come across poison ivy at some point. This plant isn't picky about where it will take root and it thrives in nearly any environment outside of deserts.

Depending on the species, you might find poison ivy climbing trees and dilapidated structures or growing as shrubs on the ground. This plant can flourish both in urban and rural settings, adapting just as well to backyards as it does to forests. Thankfully, residents of Alaska and Hawaii are in the clear from this leafy nuisance for now.


Be prepared for the unexpected

If you live in an area where poison ivy is prevalent and you believe your dog is at risk of coming in contact with it, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like Figo and Healthy Paws to ensure they're covered against high vet costs in the future.


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