Skunk. A single word that fills even the most intrepid dog owner with dread. The smell, the nightmare of getting it off, the waste of perfectly good tomato juice… Let’s face it, nothing about your dog getting sprayed by a skunk is pleasant. Unfortunately, one of our own dogs was the victim of a quite vigorous skunking (in her face, no less!) this past weekend, which sent us to the good old internet to see what we could find for a treatment. What we found was a wealth of information and a course of action that made a huge difference for poor Lucy! We’re sharing what we learned here to help you should you find your own pup in this predicament.
Skunks are a member of their own unique animal family, but are believed to be related to the weasel family as well (ferrets, weasels, otters, badgers, stoats, and wolverines). They are omnivores, eating both meat and vegetation, and are crepuscular in nature, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. They live in dens that they dig in the ground, and go into semi-hibernation in the colder months. They are most active during the spring and summer, when the weather is warmest. This time of year is prime time for skunks.
Skunks are generally non-aggressive animals that prefer flight to fight; however, when threatened, they are capable of spraying an incredibly foul-smelling substance a distance of up to 16 feet. This stinky spray is a thick, yellow, oily compound that is degraded from urine and released from scent glands located on either side of their back end. The principle component of this stinky secretion is called mercaptan (when you win Jeopardy by knowing that, let us know!), and contains sulfur – hence the stench. In fact, mercaptan is added to odor-free natural gases to that we can tell if we’ve sprung gas leaks in our stoves or furnaces.
When a skunk is preparing to spray, it will arch its back, raise his tail high, and begin hissing and stomping his feet on the ground. He may even do headstands with his back and tail arched towards the intruder. When he actually sprays, he will bend into a U-shape, with his head and back end facing the intruder, and let ‘er rip, aiming his spray primarily at the intruder’s face.
As a result, animals that get sprayed by skunks tend to take the brunt of it in their face. This should not cause permanent damage, but make sure to keep an eye on your pet’s eyes, nose, and mouth for a few days. If redness, irritation, and/or secretions occur, make sure to get your pet to a vet right away.
OK, but my dog already got skunked. Now what?
If your dog found himself on the business end of a skunk, time is absolutely of the essence. The longer the spray sits, the more it sets and the harder it is to get out. If not properly treated, the odor can last for months (or longer!) If your groomer is open, give them a call and see if they can arrange an emergency appointment. If that’s not possible, then here’s a DIY solution for you.
First things first, change into some old clothes that you don’t mind getting rid of after, as they’re going to smell to high heavens. Washing the clothes will not remove all of the skunk oil and may leave a skunk oil residue in the washing machine. Yuck! Also, throw on a pair of rubber or latex dish gloves or something similar; you don’t want to get the skunk spray on your hands.
Despite what you’ve heard, save the tomato juice for a Bloody Mary; it’s ineffective at best, and can stain your pup’s coat at worst. There are several store-bought enzymatic sprays you can use to get rid of skunk spray on a dog, such as Nature’s Miracle® Skunk Odor Remover. But of course, we rarely have something like this on hand when we need it, so just follow the steps below for a clean, fresh, stink- and discoloration-free dog.
1. Sequester your dog outside. The last thing you want is that stink getting in the house. The skunk oil can be transferred to rugs, upholstery, and other items in the house, and it can last for quite a while.
2. Put on clothes that you can throw away later and protective rubber or latex gloves.
3. Check your dog for cuts and scratches caused by the animal; if you find any, skip the rest of these steps and bring your dog to the vet ASAP.
4. Prepare for an outdoor bath. Get a tub if need be, towels you don’t mind throwing out after, the hose, and a helper if possible.
5. DON’T HOSE YOUR DOG DOWN RIGHT AWAY! This can make the stink worse and make it harder to get off. Also, if your dog has any cuts or cracks in his skin, this could rinse the skunk spray into them and cause pain, burning, and irritation and could lead to skin problems down the road.
6. Apply a bit of eye lubricant or 1-2 drops of mineral oil to your dog’s eyes. This will protect the eyes in case you get any water or other substances in them during the cleaning process.
7. Mix up the following in an OPEN container (as it creates a chemical reaction and could EXPLODE in a closed container):
- 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (check the expiration date!)
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of strong liquid soap, such as Dawn dishwashing detergent
For larger dogs, you can also add some lukewarm water to the mixture. DO NOT use a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide; it can burn the dog’s skin. Also, make sure both the hydrogen peroxide and baking soda are as fresh as possible. If either has been sitting in the cabinet or fridge for months, it’s best to run out to the pharmacy and pick up some fresh supplies (as they can break down over time and lose their effectiveness).
8. Locate the area(s) where the dog got sprayed. Wet the area(s) with the solution and thoroughly massage the solution into the coat. An old sponge works well for this. Be careful not to spread it to other areas as you’re massaging, as the skunk spray is oily and spreads easily. The oil is what makes it so difficult to remove.
9. If your dog got sprayed in the face, you can apply the mixture to a cloth and wash the dog’s face that way, being careful to avoid the eyes, nose, and mouth. See the video below for a how-to on getting skunk spray off your dog’s face and chest.
10. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes, then thoroughly rinse the dog off with lukewarm water.
11. Repeat steps 7-10 until the stink is gone.
12. Dry your pup well and give him a treat – or several!
13. Run to the pet store and pick up some skunk odor removal spray to have on hand in case this happens again. Also, take a look around your yard and identify places skunks are likely to hide, so you know where to keep your dog away from in the future.
14. If you find a spot in the yard that has been saturated in skunk spray, it is probably a good idea to restrict your pet from that area until the odor is gone. The oiliness of the spray allows it to linger and it could end up on your pet again if he/she plays in that area. If you have a Hidden Fence system, your local Dealer can help you create a temporary ‘avoidance zone.’
15. Make sure to not leave trash out overnight when possible, as this can also attract skunks.
Important to note
Skunk spray has been linked to incidences of various anemias in dogs due to some of the compounds in it. Watch your dog carefully for 3-5 days after it was sprayed, looking for lethargy, weakness, and/or discolored urine. If you note any of the above, bring the dog to the vet ASAP.