Poison Ivy

Introduction | Causes & Prevention | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Test | Treatment Options

Poison Ivy

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Introduction

Poison ivy is a woody vine that produces a toxic resin called urushiol that causes intense itching and rashes when it comes into contact with skin. Poison ivy grows in most parts of the United States and is best identified by its bright green color and three-leaf structure.

Causes & Prevention

How Poison Ivy Affects Dogs
While a dog's hair coat provides some physical protection from poison ivy, the skin of exposed areas where hair is thin or absent, such as on the belly, the inner legs and the muzzle, can be dramatically affected by contact with the plant. Clinical signs include itching, scratching, open sores and inflamed, irritated, red and raised skin patches. If a dog ingests poison ivy, it can become severely ill.

Causes of Adverse Effects of Poison Ivy
"Poison ivy" is Toxicodendron radicans. It causes severe contact dermatitis in dogs and people. Small breeds with short-haired coats are more likely to develop clinical signs. Poison ivy can cause severe gastrointestinal illness when ingested.

Preventing Adverse Poison Ivy Reactions in Dogs
The best way to prevent the extreme contact dermatitis and/or gastrointestinal distress caused by poison ivy is to prevent a dog from having access to the plant. Dogs should not be allowed to roam freely in unfamiliar areas, and owners should be conscious of the types of flora in areas they frequent with their pets.

Special Notes
If an owner suspects that his dog has nibbled on any part of a poisonous plant, the dog should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. If a dog has run through an area where poison ivy is prevalent, the owner should be careful not to pet or rub the dog's coat until a thorough bathing (with gloves) has happened to remove toxic resin residue. The prognosis for dogs with dermatitis caused by contact with poison ivy is excellent. Ingestion of the plant causes a more severe systemic reaction, but this occurs uncommonly.

Symptoms & Signs

Introduction
Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, is a woody vine that is famous for producing allergic reactions in people. An oil produced by the plant, urushiol, is the toxic ingredient in the plant. Exposure to this oil can cause dogs to experience a reaction as well. While reactions to Poison ivy in dogs are not common, if the plant comes into contact with the dog's skin or if the dog ingests the plant an allergic reaction can occur.

Symptoms of Poison Ivy in Dogs
Symptoms of Poison ivy reactions to the skin in dogs can include raised bumps or swelling of the skin. The dog may become very itchy, and the skin may also become inflamed. The raised bumps may start to blister and ooze clear fluids. If a dog ingests Poison ivy, the dog may experience sudden vomiting or diarrhea.

If your dog begins to show any of these symptoms, a prompt visit to the veterinarian is highly recommended. Any type of sudden allergic reaction can be dangerous if the reaction progresses to a condition called anaphylaxis. During an anaphylactic episode, a strong reaction to an allergen can cause swelling of the airways and respiratory system.

While reactions to Poison ivy in dogs do not occur often, it is still a good idea to keep your dog away from this plant. If you are walking your dog in an area that may have Poison ivy, take the time to look up the plant and memorize what it looks like. Many dogs are protected from Poison ivy's urushiol oils through their fur. However, if the oil is on dog's fur it is possible for a person to come into contact with the oils by petting the dog.

Treatment Options

Introduction
It is a common misconception that dogs are somehow immune to the effects of poison ivy and poison oak. While a dog's haircoat provides some protection from these offending plants, the skin of unprotected areas on the belly, the inner legs and the muzzle can be affected.

Treating Poison Ivy in Dogs
Contact with poison ivy or poison oak – plants in the genus Toxicodendron - can cause serious dermatitis in dogs, and in people as well. Skin that comes into contact with these plants becomes inflamed, irritated, red and raised. The oil from the leaves of Toxicodendron plants causes intense itching in affected areas. Small breeds with short-haired coats are more likely to develop clinical signs.

If you suspect that your dog has come in contact with poison ivy or poison oak, you should bathe it in warm water, using a mild shampoo, and rinse it thoroughly to remove as much of the plant's oil from the dog's coat as possible. Owners should wear gloves while bathing their dog to reduce the risk that they will develop contact dermatitis as well. Towels used to dry the dog should be washed promptly. If an owner suspects that his dog has nibbled on or actually ingested any part of a poisonous plant, that dog should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. A veterinarian can also recommend topical treatments, and perhaps oral anti-inflammatory or antihistamine medications, to help ease the discomfort caused by this condition.

Ultimately, the best way to "treat" contact dermatitis caused by poison ivy is to prevent a dog from having access to it in the first place. Dogs should not be allowed to roam freely in unfamiliar areas, and owners should be conscious of the types of flora and fauna in areas they frequent with their pets. Remember, even if a dog shows no signs of inflammation or irritation after coming into contact with poison ivy or poison oak, people can develop clinical signs if they pet affected areas of the dog's coat.

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