It’s that time of the year when the weather is much nicer and pet parents are taking their dogs along on hikes, camping and all sorts of outdoor activities. While those outings with a dog can be fun and healthy for both the human and our furry best friends, there can also be potential natural hazards such as poison ivy.
Like humans, all dogs can be affected by poison ivy, but here’s what you need know about dogs and poison ivy:
What to avoid - Poison ivy may affect dogs by causing a papular rash progressing to blisters on the skin. All dogs are susceptible to the effects of poison ivy as there is no known resistance to its toxic resin. Dogs are most likely to come into contact with poison ivy in places where the ground is most “disturbed.” This includes nature trail walks along paths, up trees and fences, along the edge of the backyard, and even mixed in with the landscaping.
Affected areas - The most likely place on the body for signs of poison ivy to develop are the areas that are less protected by hair and therefore have more skin exposure to the oil resin. This especially includes the inguinal (i.e. “groin”) regions, external genitalia, muzzle, and armpits. However, all aspects of the body that are sparsely covered by hair are at risk and this may include the top of the body in short haired breeds.
How it impacts your dog - Poison ivy causes raised bumps and redness of the skin. These bumps are called papules and most closely resemble a pimple. The resin of the poison ivy plant results in a local histamine release within the skin, which is very itchy to the dog and also increases blood flow to the area. The increased blood flow is what makes the skin appear redder. As the condition becomes more chronic, there may be blisters that ooze a clear fluid. When this occurs, the skin is more susceptible to bacterial infections, which results in more histamine being released, thus perpetuating the scratch-itch cycle and inflammation.
Protecting your dog - The only sure way of reducing your pet’s risk of reaction to poison ivy is to limit their exposure. Use of a T-shirt or other fabric that covers exposed areas of skin may help to reduce contact with the poisonous resin of the plant. Particular areas of coverage should be focused on the abdomen and groin regions.
Preventive meds - Antihistamines may be used as a preventative and given prior to potential exposure to poison ivy. Consult with your vet prior to giving your dog any allergy medication.
Treatments - If your dog comes into contact with poison ivy, bathe them immediately with warm water and an oatmeal based shampoo. Wear gloves so you are not infected. Monitor the skin for improvement, which may take up to 5-7 days for complete resolution. If signs of of redness are seen beyond this time, or if the signs spread to other parts of the body or progress to blistering, contact your veterinarian right away.