By Linda Cole
Hiking a favorite trail or playing at the park may seem like a safe way to spend the day, but you may not have noticed that patch of poison ivy your dog walked through. The question is, does poison ivy, oak or sumac affect dogs, and can they give it to us?
Humans and animals can suffer the same itchy fate when exposed skin makes contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac. These plants aren’t as likely to bother cats because their coat covers them completely. Dogs on the other hand, have exposed skin on their tummy and the inside area of their back legs. The oil from these plants can also sometimes work its way through a dog or cat’s coat to the skin, causing an itchy discomfort. If you weren’t aware your pet was in contact with one of these poison plants, you might think his scratching was due to fleas.
Poison ivy is generally found in every state except Hawaii and Alaska. Poison oak is mainly found in western states; it can be found in southern states as well, but is rarely found in the Midwest. Sumac thrives in wooded, swampy areas of southern and eastern states. It’s also prevalent in wet wooded areas, like along the Mississippi River.
All three toxic plants contain an oily sap called urushiol, which causes an itchy rash and nasty blisters on the skin. Urushiol has to be absorbed through the skin before it can cause an allergic reaction. It takes longer for the oily resin to penetrate through thicker skin, which is why there can be a delay before there’s a reaction, or why it seems to spread. A rash and blisters are seen first where the skin is the thinnest, and appears on other areas as the toxin is absorbed through thicker skin. Fluid from broken blisters is not contagious and can’t infect other areas on the body because the urushiol that created the blister has already been absorbed.
If your dog or cat walks through a patch of poison ivy, oak or sumac and gets some of the resin on his coat, even if it doesn’t affect him, you can get the sap on you if he rubs against you or you pet him. Since dogs and cats are shorter, it’s very easy for them to get the oily sap on their ears, face or anywhere else on their body when hiking or just out running around in their own backyard.