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.