If you're a dog lover who enjoys spending time in the great outdoors, here's an uncomfortable fact you might not have been aware of, especially if you like letting your pup roam off its leash. Did you know that your beloved four-legged pal can get poison ivy (and its cousins poison oak and sumac) just like humans? Yep. The whole nine yards – complete with redness, swelling and itchy rash.
And, while it's easy to treat the rash (as it is for humans), since dogs don't know not to scratch, it's also easier for them to get a secondary infection.
Leaves of Three, Leave Them Be
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac grow in wooded areas all over North America. There's a sticky oil in the plants (leaves, stem and roots) called urushiol that gets absorbed into the skin and causes contact dermatitis – the itchy rash – with the slightest touch. Even a trace amount of urushiol on a person who is allergic to it can cause the red uncomfortable rash we call "poison ivy."
Typically, your dog's coat would protect it from urushiol reaching its skin, but urushiol can still reach exposed skin on your pup's belly or underneath its legs. And while it is uncommon for dogs to break out in a rash, it is possible. It's far more likely that your dog would spread poison ivy to you.
The best way to protect your dog (and you) after a stroll through poison ivy, is to bathe your furry friend as soon as you get home. Here are a few tips:
- Wear gloves – If you touch your dog, you'll be exposed to urushiol, too.
- Use warm (not hot) water and an oatmeal soap or an anti-itch dog shampoo. This rinses off the urushiol and it will feel good to your pup.
- Dry your dog and then keep an eye on the vulnerable areas of your pet's body.
If you notice your pup licking, scratching or obviously irritated by something on its skin, see if your veterinarian can recommend a topical hydrocortisone cream. Hydrocortisone can sometimes cause a reaction if licked off and ingested by your dog, so always discuss any medication, even a topical cream, with your vet first to make sure it's safe. They might even suggest giving your dog Benedryl – but, again, don't give your dog any medication without checking with your vet first.
And here's a pro tip: Wash everything that came into contact with your dog – clothing, towels, bath rugs. Urushiol stays on fabric and transfers easily to anyone who touches it. That's how poison ivy spreads.