While protecting your pooch from the heat is a serious concern in the summer months, pet owners should also be mindful of other dangers associated with outdoor fun this season. If you and your pet spend a lot of time hiking or walking in wooded areas, you may want to brush up on a few facts about poison ivy on dogs.
“Summertime activities such as hiking can definitely increase exposure to poison ivy, so close monitoring of your dog is a must,” asserts Hyunmin Kim, DVM, community medicine veterinarian for the ASPCA. Dr. Kim notes that poison ivy can look different depending on the season — it usually grows as a cluster of small shrubs or vines and is best known for its groups of three jagged green leaves. However, during the springtime, poison ivy can have yellow-green flowers with small green berries that turn off-white in the fall, Dr. Kim notes.
“Bathing your pet after hikes or other activities of this nature is advised,” says Taylor Howard, DVM, of University Veterinary Hospital and Diagnostic Center in Utah. “This helps to wash away any kind of contact irritant, and is a good way to reduce the spread to others in the household.” He recommends a standard aloe vera/oatmeal shampoo, which is available at any pet store.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prevent poison ivy on dogs — and yourself — this summer. “Poison ivy can grow anywhere, so you should always monitor your dog when you’re outside,” Dr. Kim says. “Keep your dog on a leash [always check the park, trail or area’s leash laws] when participating in outdoor activities such as hiking so you can monitor what plants he’s coming into contact with.”
T-shirts for dogs can be more than just an adorable accessory this time of year — Dr. Kim notes they can also provide a helpful layer of protection to cover exposed areas on your dog’s skin. Another way to prevent poison ivy on dogs!
The good news is that your pet’s coat provides some protection against poison ivy exposure. The bad news is that pet owners aren’t quite as lucky. “The toxic substance in poison ivy is the sap, which contains Urushiol oil … and this oil can be transferred between dogs and their owners,” Dr. Kim explains. In other words, yes, you can catch poison ivy from your dog.
Dr. Howard agrees that while the toxicodendron plants (poison ivy and poison oak) very commonly cause contact dermatitis in people, it’s not nearly as prevalent in pets. “This is a result of there being a layer of fur that acts as a barrier, preventing the oils from contacting the skin,” Dr. Howard explains. “While this is the case, we cannot rule this out as a suspected cause if a pet comes to us with skin lesions consistent with contact dermatitis; the work up and treatment is the same for any dermatitis of this nature.”
Of course, poison ivy on dogs is a bigger concern for dogs with less — or no — fur. According to Dr. Kim, poison ivy on dogs is likely to show up on hairless breeds such as the Chinese Crested, Peruvian Inca Orchid and Xoloitzcuintli. “Many dogs have a hairless abdomen, so close monitoring of hairless spots is always helpful,” Dr. Kim adds.
Dr. Howard notes that if you have an adventurous short-haired dog who likes to go hiking in the woods or spend time at the lake — particularly if he’s lower to the ground like Boston Terriers, Pit Bulls or Dachshunds — he’s also more likely to develop symptoms of contact dermatitis.
So, what does poison ivy on dogs look like? If your pet does come into contact with poison ivy, it can cause redness, inflammation, itching, bumps, blisters, scratching and licking of the skin, Dr. Kim notes. Poison ivy ingestion can cause gastrointestinal upset and result in vomiting and diarrhea.
According to Dr. Howard, most lesions are around one centimeter in size, and pet owners would likely spot signs of poison ivy on dogs on hairless or short-haired areas around the muzzle, eyes, belly and distal limbs. They can coalesce into larger patches of superficial, red, raised, tender or itchy plaques, and the lesions can blister and expose the skin to secondary bacterial infections.
“The concern for transmission between pet and owner is higher when these signs are present,” Dr. Howard notes. “The fact of the matter is that most pets have no symptoms, and have only the non-visible oils on the coat that are passed easily to others by contact — such as petting your dog.”
If you think your pet may have come into contact with poison ivy, the first step is to give your four-legged friend a bath. “Pet owners should wear gloves to avoid exposure, and then wash their clothes and all other items — including collars — that may have been exposed,” Dr. Howard advises. It’s also a good idea to give your veterinarian a call, as he or she may recommend topical anti-inflammatory medications or oral anti-histamines.
If you think your pet may have snacked on poison ivy, that would also require a trip to the vet depending on the amount of gastrointestinal upset. “You should also bring your dog in to see the vet if he’s had more chronic exposure to poison ivy, because he can form blisters on his skin, which could become infected,” Dr. Kim adds.
Tell us: Did you know these facts about poison ivy on dogs? Has your dog ever given you poison ivy?
Thumbnail: Photography ©Jonathan Mauer | Getty Images.