Poison oak and poison ivy belong to the group of plants called toxicodendron species. These are also known as Rhus species. The toxic principle in poison oak and poison ivy is urushiol. This toxin is an oil resin found in the plant sap. Animals are quite resistant to the effects of urushiol but can transmit the toxin to a person.
Dogs and cats typically come in contact with the poison ivy or poison oak plant in wooded areas. They may ingest some of the plant but, more likely, they will rub against it while walking. The sap from the plant then adheres to the hair coat, and when you pet your dog or cat later, the sap transfers from their fur to your skin. If you are susceptible to poison oak or poison ivy, skin irritation can occur.
In animals, exposure to urushiol seldom results in skin irritation.
What to Watch For
Veterinary care is recommended if the animal develops a severe reaction to the plant, especially if ingested. Excessive vomiting, diarrhea or weakness should prompt veterinary care.
The diagnosis is based on known exposure or ingestion of the plant.
Treatment of urushiol toxicity is based on the severity of the signs. For those animals with skin irritation, prolonged bathing and rinsing for at least 10 minutes is recommended.
For those animals affected after ingesting the plant, hospitalization with intravenous fluids may be necessary. Activated charcoal may be administered if it is suspected that more plant material is present in the stomach.
For those pets exposed to topical urushiol, prolonged bathing and rinsing, at least 10 minutes, is recommended. Be careful to wear gloves when bathing the pet so you do not come in contact with the urushiol.
For those animals ingesting the plant, monitoring for vomiting, lack of appetite or diarrhea is recommended.
Preventing exposure to poison ivy or poison oak is the key to preventing urushiol toxicity. Do not allow your pet to roam freely. When on vacation, take care to avoid poison oak or poison ivy plants. If your pet is known to have come in contact with poison oak or poison ivy, immediate prolonged bathing can help diminish the risk of toxicity. Fortunately, most dogs and cats seem to be resistant to the effects of poison ivy and poison oak.