Poison ivy, and similar poisonous plants such as poison oak or sumac, are a scourge for many people who enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking. Some people who are especially sensitive can develop rashes and blisters even with minimal contact with the plant. But what if you know what to look for and how to avoid these poisonous plants while you're hiking with your dog, but your dog doesn't? Will he get poison ivy? And can he transfer that to you?
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Poison ivy, oak or sumac
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are plants that grow in wooded areas in different parts of the country. Poison ivy is found everywhere in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii, although it is most common in the Eastern and Midwestern states.
Poison oak is most common in the Western states, but it can be found all over. Poison sumac is most common in the Eastern and Northern lowlands and swampy areas of Southern states. Although they grow in slightly different habitats, each of these plants contains an oil, called urushiol oil, that is responsible for the allergic reaction.
While some people are immune to the effects or urushiol oil, nearly everyone who comes into contact with the plant develops an itchy rash. Even people who start out with immunity to urushiol oil can develop the allergic reaction if they are continuously exposed to it. The Pet Poison Helpline says, thankfully, that dogs have more hair on their bodies, which provides protection, while humans typically have more exposed skin. Dogs can carry the oil from their hair to humans, however, so that's most likely what you'll need to watch out for.
Poison ivy allergic reaction
The problem is the urushiol oil in the sap in poison ivy, oak, or sumac. It is released from the plant when it is broken, crushed, or even brushed up against. These plants are poisonous year-round, even in winter. Be cautious when touching any part of the plant, including the root. Symptoms will be worse with greater exposure to the plant.
The Mayo Clinic says signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include:
- Difficulty breathing, if you've inhaled the smoke from burning poison ivy
The rashes and blisters usually develop 12 to 48 hours after exposure and last two to three weeks. The rash is not contagious, so you can't get the rash just by touching someone else's rash. But the rash can spread by touch, either by someone else, you spreading it to other parts of your body, or through contact with your pet, if the urushiol oil is still present.
If you think you or your pet has been exposed to the plant, give them, and yourself, a cleansing bath.
Dog exposure to poison ivy
The Pet Poison Helpline says despite the dramatic sounding name, poison ivy, oak, or sumac are not really "poisonous" in the sense that they will make you or your dog seriously ill. But they are toxic, and the allergic reaction effects are certainly unpleasant.
Pet Poison Helpline says pets can be exposed to these poisonous plants or other toxic plants by skin exposure or through their mouths. Either way, dog exposure to poison ivy can result in contact dermatitis (irritated skin) or an upset gastrointestinal system.
The American Kennel Club reports that most veterinary dermatologists say dogs cannot get poison ivy, or if they do, it is very rare. Part of this is because the urushiol oil simply can not reach the dog's skin because of their longer hair. but, the oil can still get on their hair. This might allow the itchy rash-causing oil to spread, by the dog grooming himself or rubbing against you.
Limiting exposure to poison ivy
If you enjoy spending time outside, learn to recognize these poisonous plants. If you are fortunate enough to live in Alaska or Hawaii, chances are you will never encounter these plants. Interestingly, mango trees, which are found in Hawaii, also contain urushiol oil and will also result in an itchy rash.
They also do not like heights, apparently, so if you're into mountain hikes, you will not likely see these plants above 4,000 feet. They do like wet areas, however, so even if you live in a desert, these plants may still grow along the banks of rivers, streams, and ponds.
When you do go walking through wooded areas, don't walk with exposed skin. Wear long pants, socks, and shirts with sleeves. Wear gloves if you are doing any outside work involving removing the plant, clearing land, or the like. Be extremely cautious about burning the plant, because that can expose your lungs to the urushiol oil in smoke form.
Any contact with urushiol oil from these plants could rub off on you, or your dog. If you're experiencing the itchy rash symptoms of poison ivy, it could be from exposure. While it's not likely that your dog will get it on her skin because her fur prevents the oil from reaching her skin, it is possible she transferred some of the oil to you. If you're worried about something your dog may transfer to you after contact with the plant, give her a bath as soon as you get home so the oils don't spread. Call the Pet Poison Helpline 24/7 at (877) 764-7661.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.