A chance encounter with one of these plants during a walk through the woods may leave your dog feeling itchy or sick.

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Many of us have probably had an unlucky run-in with poison ivy. What was supposed to be a fun time outdoors instead left us itchy and red, possibly for weeks.

What about our dogs, though? Does poison ivy affect dogs? Are dogs allergic to poison ivy and similar plants like poison oak and poison sumac?

Fortunately, thanks to their fur, dogs rarely have problems with these plants. Nevertheless, it helps to know what to do if your dog does come into contact with one of them.

What are Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac?

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are grouped within the Anacardiaceae family of plants. They are typically found in areas that are woody or marshy.

Poison ivy has green leaves that are grouped in threes and have jagged edges. "Leaves of three, let them be" is an easy way to remember poison ivy's appearance.

Poison oak's leaves are also grouped in threes but have rounded edges. These plants can have white-yellow berries.

Poison sumac has smooth-edged, elongated, and oval-shaped leaves grouped in clusters of seven to 13.

These plants are poisonous because of urushiol, a potent oily sap found all over the plants. 

How Do Dogs Get Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac?

Dogs get poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac through touch or ingestion. A dog's fur protects against the urushiol. But areas of a dog's body without much hair, like the belly, are most vulnerable to this oily sap.

Tan terrier mix walks across fallen tree
Credit: Kerkez / Getty

What Happens If a Dog Touches or Eats Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac?

If your dog's fur brushes against one of these poisonous plants, the urushiol will land on the fur without your dog even noticing.

However, if one of the poisonous plants touches your dog's belly, the urushiol will quickly get absorbed into the skin, and can cause an allergic reaction with these symptoms:

  • Rash
  • Red, itchy skin
  • Inflammation, including swelling
  • Raised bumps
  • Blisters in the affected area
  • Scratching, chewing, biting the affected area

If your dog ate poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, they might experience mild vomiting or diarrhea.

How to Treat Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac on Dogs

If urushiol gets on your dog, you'll want to get rid of it without delay by bathing your dog:

  1. Wear waterproof gloves (ideally rubber or nitrile), long sleeves, and long pants to protect yourself from urushiol, which easily spreads from your dog to anything your dog contacts (including you).
  2. Use a mild shampoo, such as Dawn dish detergent.
  3. Generously rinse your dog with cold water, then create lots of lather as you wash your dog with warm water. Avoid your dog’s eyes, genitals, and ears.
  4. Repeat this process at least once or twice to remove all of the urushiol.
  5. Dry your dog with a bath towel.
  6. Immediately after the bath, wash your clothes and everything else that your dog touched, including their bedding, leash, and collar. Wash everything in hot water.
  7. Wash your couch and/or vehicle cushions with a fabric cleaner, and clean your carpet with a carpet cleaner.

Benadryl and coconut oil can help soothe your dog's itchiness. Contact your veterinarian before giving your dog these products or any other home remedy.

If your dog has a tummy upset from eating one of the plants, feed them a bland diet, such as cooked rice and boiled chicken (all unseasoned). Make sure that your dog has access to plenty of fresh water so that they don't get dehydrated.

When Should a Dog See the Vet?

Many allergic reactions from poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac on dogs are minor. However, severe allergic reactions can happen, including life-threatening anaphylactic shock, oozing blisters and scabs, and excessive biting or scratching. These reactions require veterinary care.

Fever or appetite loss could indicate a more serious reaction from eating the plants.

You can always take your dog to the vet if you're unsure about your dog's allergic reaction. Your vet will examine your dog and prescribe any additional medications, such as steroids or antibiotics, to treat the allergic reaction. Anaphylactic shock requires immediate and aggressive veterinary treatment.

Preventing Future Mishaps With Poisonous Plants Containing Urushiol

Preventing another run-in with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac can be simple: avoid wooded areas. If you go on a hike, make sure your dog steers clear of the plants.

Get rid of these plants if they're in your yard. Removing the plants can take a lot of work, so may want to hire a professional gardening service to do it for you. After the plants are removed, consider taking steps to create a more dog-friendly yard to protect your pet.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rarely cause problems in dogs. Do your best to keep your pup away from them and respond promptly if your dog touches or eats them.