Poison Ivy and Pets
Itch-Inducing Plant Can Inflict Havoc on Families
What is Poison Ivy and Where Does it Grow?
Poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans) grows throughout North America, predominantly in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and in the southeastern region of the United States. Poison oak, a similar plant species, grows in the western states.
Normally found in wooded areas, usually near trees, the plant—which isn’t actually an ivy—likes shaded areas and can grow as a shrub, groundcover or as a climbing vine.
Usually identified by its distinct three almond-shaped leaflets and its “hairy” vine, the plant ranges in color from light to dark green, with the exception of the fall season, when the leaflets turn bright red, yellow or orange.
The sap of poison ivy contains a clear liquid compound called urushiol that causes itching, irritation and sometimes a painful rash.
Urushiol is very hardy and long-lived and may persist in the environment (and on clothing, towels or bedding) for years.
Can Dogs and Cats Get Poison Ivy?
Can our dogs and cats get poison ivy if they come across it during a hike or outdoor excursion?
Justine Lee, DVM, a board-certified veterinary specialist in both emergency critical care and toxicology and the CEO and founder of VetGirl, addresses the question in an excerpt from her book “It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet.
“They can, but thankfully, dogs don’t seem to get poison ivy nearly as commonly as humans. Thanks to their long, protective hair coat, the oils from poison ivy just can’t reach the skin.
“Unfortunately, these oils can be spread from Itchy Izzy to you. Use caution when hiking through poison ivy with Izzy and avoid petting her immediately after.”
Although very few cases have been reported, dogs and cats with short coats (such as the Chinese crested dog or the Sphynx cat) become affected by poison ivy. If they take a roll in poison ivy, says Dr. Lee, relief is within reach.
“If itchy Izzy has short hair and does get poison ivy, try bathing her in a colloidal oatmeal shampoo—they have them for dogs, too!”
How Can I Prevent My Pet From Giving Me Poison Ivy?
Now that we know our dogs and cats aren’t likely to become contaminated themselves, how can we prevent them from inadvertently transmitting poison ivy to us?
- Try to avoid petting your pet if you suspect poison ivy may be growing in the area and your pet may have unwittingly explored the underbrush.
- Bring a towel, and dry wipe her off after hiking (while wearing gloves!). Often you can minimize the likelihood of her transmitting these oils to you.
- Wash your pet's leash and harness with a mild detergent (make sure you handle the pet gear with gloves).
- Avoid touching your face.
- Wash the clothes you were wearing.
- Take a shower. The oil in poison ivy can linger on your own skin. A gentle soap with jewelweed has been known to help reduce irritation and itching caused by poison ivy.
- Give your dog a bath to reduce the likelihood that she brought home poison ivy.
Keep in mind that there are many reasons why your pets may be itching, scratching and chewing. It’s not necessary due to poison ivy. Everything from fleas and other parasites, to hot spots and allergies can irritate your pet.
Damage from scratching and chewing may cause secondary infections which often add to the chewing and licking cycle. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your pet has persistent itching and scratching.