Cat Behavior 101,  Cats,  Holistic cat care,  Odin

Cats and Poison Ivy

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

UPDATED: The summer nuisance is back and it’s not the barking dog or nosy neighbor. It’s poison ivy season and you don’t need to live in a leafy suburb to be affected.

Two recent studies show increased CO2 in the atmosphere (thanks to global warming) is creating super-sized poison ivy plants (toxicodendron radicans) with more potent urushiol. The urushiol oil contained in the leaves, stems and roots of poison ivy cause the itchy rash or allergic reaction. Not only are the poison ivy plants packing more of an itchy wallop, there’s more of them.

Over the past 50 years the growth rate has doubled increasing the odds of coming in contact with the plant. They tend to grow in shaded, woody areas climbing up trees but may grow as a shrub or ground cover. The old adage “Leaves of three, let them be,” still holds true. The pointed leaves may or may not be shiny and can be light to dark green turning red or yellow in the fall.

In my garden, over the past 13 years, I’d say the growth rate has more that tripled with this year being the worst. About 80% of people react with an allergic, itchy rash. There is no way to desensitize people allergic to poison ivy. Even in winter the leafless “dead” stems and vines can cause a rash. Never burn poison ivy leaves or vines, even dead ones as they will release urushiol into the smoke.

Cats and dogs are not generally affected by poison ivy but short-haired or hairless breeds like the Sphynx can suffer from poison ivy. If pets have brushed by a poison ivy plant and we then pet them, our skin may be exposed to urushiol. If pets exposed to poison ivy then unwittingly brush up against a person, an item of clothing or other object, the urshiol is transmitted. That means you could live in New York pet a dog who had been gamboling in poison ivy patch in the Hamptons and get a nasty rash. Most shockingly, an item contaminated years ago like an old pair of sandals and then worn can create a fresh cycle of itchies.

I personally can attest to getting mild rashes from old contaminated items including flip flops, garden tools, beach bags, tennis balls, sunglasses to name a few. I have no doubt my penchant for gardening without gloves is to blame as is our adventurous cat and gardening assistant Odin. Our garden is organic and I prefer to remove poison ivy plants instead of using toxic chemicals but the plants have long root system and are difficult to keep at bay.


My Tips

  • My anti-itch solution is largely preventative. If you suspect you may have come into contact with urushiol, shower or wash hands vigorously with soap and rinse thoroughly with cool water. I use Tecnu or Calagel the moment I feel an itch. There is a 15 minute window between contact and itching so act fast.
  • Wash your clothes and items touched by poison ivy i.e. beach towel.
  • Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes before treatment.
  • If your pet has been in contact with poison ivy and/or is itching try a bath in gentle oatmeal shampoo or lavender camomile pet shampoo.
  • If you don’t want to bathe, use a wet paper towel or gentle wipes from EarthBath
  • Use gloves (I use disposable surgical gloves) when handling items that may have trace amounts of urushiol.
  • Wash pet’s collar, leash, harness.
  • Please note: a pet’s itching can be from causes other than poison ivy i.e. allergies, hot spots, fleas, ticks, parasites.

To learn more fascinating facts about poison ivy, sumac and poison oak visit POISONIVYinfo

Have you or your pet had poison ivy and how did you treat it?


  • Laurie Brown


    Since I see from the sentence about the Sphinx cats that they *can* react to urshiol, I wonder if cats can get rashes in their mouths and throats if they lick their fur after exposure to poison ivy? Thanks!

  • Kendra

    Thanks for the info! There is a 1-2 day dormant period between contact with the oil and the rash/itch. Does anyone have any information of a pet safe wipe that I can wipe down my cats with when they come inside from a romp in the woods? Does the Earthbath wipes or other like wipes work and are they safe for the cats to ingest since they lick themselves clean? I am afraid to even hold or pet my kitties right now without doing a complete surgeon wash afterwards!! I’ve gotten poison ivy already this summer from them.

    • Layla Morgan Wilde

      An itch can set in within 15 minutes. All the wipes are safe to use. We have a lot of poison ivy this year and I prefer to treat myself, the moment I feel an itch by washing with Techtu and applying Calagel.

  • PepiSmartDog

    So glad to see you back on our Thankful Thursday Weekly Blog Hop. You have such informative articles and important and I love reading them each week.
    Hope you’ll continue to join in our Hop.
    BTW – LOVED the Grumpy Cat swag you gave away as a prize. it was awesome – saw pics from the winner. :=o)
    *waves paw*

  • jansfunnyfarm

    Never thought about pets getting /giving poison ivy. Good thing we don’t have any in our yard or Jan would be giving it to all of us.

    Thanks for coming by our blog and helping to make Jan’s birthday special.

  • Sometimes, Cats Herd You

    Like Sparkle, we are indoor cats, so we had no idea that cats could cat poison ivy. We also didn’t know that flip flops or other objects could retain itchy-causing properties for extended time. This is good information, thank you!

  • Angel AbbyGrace

    Absolutely prevention is the best way to go but sometimes…well you get ambushed literally. I always use gloves when outside and up until this month used long sleeve cotton tops. I always keep my legs and feet covered. Too many odd ball creatures around here. But good information.

  • Skeeter and Izzy

    Thanks for the info. Alternative soulutions are always great to learn about.

    Skeeter and Izzy and the Feral Gang + Twig and Peanut and Romeo >^..^<

  • easy rider

    I’m glad we have no poison ivy, my dad told me that it is awful. Bad guys put it in his pants as he was a little boy. His mom used an oatmeal product too as he had to sit in the bathtub later.

  • da tabbies o trout towne

    doodz…tell yur mom two haz a jar oh 100 % organic coconut oil on stand by…honest to cod it werks at gettin rid oh de itch N de ivy ā™„

  • The Island Cats

    This is great info. A couple of years ago the mom and dad-guy were pulling up what they thought was weeds. Turned out to be poison ivy and the dad-guy ended up with a pretty bad rash. The mom was affected a little bit, too. They were itchy and scratching for weeks. šŸ˜›

  • Katie and Cocco

    Great post! I happened to be pulling weeds the other day without gloves and pulled a big poison oak from the ground. Eek. The tree people were there and they told me to take an old stocking! put dry oatmeal in it and then scrub like crazy with cold water. It worked and I didn’t get the rash!

  • Sammy

    We certainly have a bumper crop of poison ivy this year and I’ve wondered about the feral cats that we feed and whether because they’re rolling around in the woods everywhere the oil can stick to their coats….when I pet them I always wash my hands well afterwards for that reason – when I haven’t been able to wash I have gotten the rash on my hands. YUCK…..HATE the stuff!!!!

    Hugs, Pam

  • Fur Everywhere

    I am seriously allergic to poison ivy, so this news about it increasing and being more potent is not good. I’ve had poison ivy twice – once as a young child (along with the chicken pox, at the SAME time) and my eyes swelled shut. I had to go on steroids for that. The other time was in college and I had to go on steroids for that one, too.

    Thanks for the good preventive information. Prevention is the best way to deal with poison ivy for sure.

  • Sparkle

    We big city indoor-only kitties don’t have to worry about this – even if we have a sizable backyard (which we do, for L.A.), we need to keep brush and weeds cleared for fire danger – and we never get to spend time outside because of coyotes (yes, they come down from the hills to dine on unsuspecting city pets). We miss some things, but we feel safer.

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