After a long day in the woods with your dog, you might come home expecting to relax… but what happens when, a few hours after returning, you see Rusty scratching himself senseless? Unfortunately, this happens all the time to dogs that spend a lot of time roaming outside. Dogs (obviously) don’t know how to avoid poison ivy, and many of them have bellies and legs at a perfect height to brush right against these irritating plants. If your dog has poison ivy, there are several things you can do to help him stay comfortable. Give these steps a try:
1. Make sure it’s really poison ivy. Actual poison ivy reactions on dogs look like reddish, itchy rashes, with tiny blisters not much bigger than a pinhead. They often appear in line-like patterns because of the way the leaves brush against the dogs’ body. On dogs, poison ivy rashes will usually appear on the legs, paws, and belly. A whole-body rash or a rash that looks very different may have another cause, and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
2. Use an oatmeal sock. This old home remedy for poison ivy works very well on dogs and, unlike a lot of topical skin treatments, it’s just fine if your dog licks some of it off. (It’s just oatmeal, after all.) Fill a sock with instant oatmeal and soak it in warm water for a few minutes. Next, gently massage it into the areas where your dog has a poison ivy rash. The oatmeal provides a protective coating that helps reduce irritation and prevent further damage to your dog’s skin. If you’ve got the kind of dog who will readily tolerate a long, soaking bath, you can also mix colloidal oatmeal (available at any pharmacy) into a warm bath and encourage him to sit in the tub for as long as he’ll tolerate.
3. Apply some hydrocortisone cream. Hydrocortisone is a steroid sold over-the-counter as a topical remedy for itching and rashes in humans. Many vets recommend topical hydrocortisone cream for dogs with poison ivy, as well. Get a maximum-strength hydrocortisone cream from any pharmacy– try to avoid any with “extra” ingredients, which may not be approved for use in dogs– and massage the cream into your dog’s skin several times a day. This should help reduce the itching and inflammation associated with poison ivy rashes.
4. Give your dog Benadryl. Persistent poison ivy rashes with dogs can be treated at home using diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl). Benadryl is generally considered safe and effective for dogs at a dose of one milligram per pound of body weight, up to three times daily. However, since it’s hard to give that exact dose, Walker Valley Veterinary Hospital instead recommends rounding to the nearest readily-available dose: a 12-pound dog would need a 12.5-milligram (children’s) dose of Benadryl, while a 25-pound dog can take 25 milligrams (a standard dose), a 50-pound dog can take two adult Benadryls (50 milligrams) , and a 75-pound dog can take three (75 milligrams).
5. Get in touch with your vet. If your dog’s poison ivy rash is severe or hasn’t cleared up after a few days of treatment, it’s time to give your vet a call. Severe cases of poison ivy need veterinary attention because they can become infected or can make a dog miserable. Your vet may want to give your dog a stronger treatment, such as injections of prednisone (a steroid that effectively treats severe poison ivy rashes). She’ll also confirm the diagnosis to make sure that your dog isn’t experiencing some other problem, like an allergic reaction, eczema, psoriasis, or an infection. Always defer to your vet’s judgment when it comes to your pet’s health.