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How Can I Get The Skunk Smell Off My Pets?!

So your dog, cat, or other furry friend might be the type that enjoys the best of both worlds–luxuriating indoors, while also relishing the thrill of the natural world. Or maybe they’re just really sneaky, and they slipped out of a barely-cracked-open door (you know the type). Either way, once they’re outside, there are any number of potential hazards they could come up against. But one among them all is every pet owner’s worst nightmare–skunk spray.


When that happens to your little guy or gal, you can’t help but feel sorry for them…and pretty upset that you now have a serious chore on your hands! There are lots of products and DIY remedies out there that claim to eradicate skunk smell from dogs, cats, and other pets, but how can you know what works? Well we’re going to break things down for you. 


When Skunks Spray


First off, learning about your enemy can help you to be more strategic and potentially avoid ever needing to scrub down a skunked pup. 


Bambi had it right–skunks typically hibernate during winter, emerging during the warming days in early spring to breed in February and March. So you’ll often see (smell?) more skunks beginning this time of year. During summer and autumn, skunks will keep up their standard (teenage-like) habits, sleeping during the day and foraging for food at night. 


Hate it as we may, skunk spray is pretty impressive–put on your science hats. This glandular secretion is an organic compound called a thiol. A pungent mix of sulfur-based compounds, skunk spray is also oily, which helps it to stick to surfaces, and its chemical makeup means that it especially clings to the proteins in skin and hair/fur.


As if that weren’t enough, skunk spray repels water and can actually increase its stench when wet. Speaking of stench, skunk spray can be smelled up to 1.5 miles (yes, miles!) away. So whatever you do, don’t bring your pet indoors if they’re sprayed–this is a job to handle outside. And yes, it should be handled, because skunk spray can linger for a couple of weeks up to a month if not tackled immediately.


How To De-Skunk Your Pet


If your pet was just sprayed, and their face was the main target, don’t worry about making a solution–get some cool, clean water on them to wash away the irritant. Make sure that their eyes aren’t affected and that they haven’t ingested the spray–contact your veterinarian right away if you feel your pet is in distress or if they’re vomiting.


When it comes to washing, step away from the tomato juice! This is a long-suggested way to clean a skunk-sprayed pet, but experts don’t really recommend it much anymore. Since skunk spray is oily and sticky, you’ll need to use something that can cling to it on a molecular level and wash it away. This is where surfactants (soaps) shine! You’ll also want to neutralize any lingering odor. There are plenty of ready-mixed options on the market, and your veterinarian, trainer or groomer can likely suggest their go-to.


But if you’re in need of a solution right away, you can turn to your pantry and medicine cabinet for help. Wildlife organizations, vets, and other experts agree that a basic DIY skunk smell removal recipe should include the following (but always check with your vet if you’re wary!):


  • 3% hydrogen peroxide – about a quart
  • baking soda – between ¼ and ½ cup
  • liquid dishwashing soap – about 1 teaspoon


Using rubber gloves and clothes you don’t really care about, mix these three together until the baking soda dissolves and use it to wash your pet, carefully avoiding direct contact with their eyes and nose. Wet them down first, then lather, allowing the mixture to sit on their coat for 10-15 minutes. Rinse well and repeat if need be. A squeeze or spray bottle could be a good management tool here. 


The skunk smell could still linger (it’s a strong chemical, folks!) but it will be a major improvement, and you can follow up with their normal pet shampoo if you’d like. Your pet can probably regain house privileges at this point. Keep an eye out for any skin issues, since this major scrub down could be irritating or drying.


The above solution is also safe for use on clothing, carpet, and furniture, in case your pet snuck back inside before being cleaned. And if that doesn’t help clear the air in your home, there are plenty of DIY remedies out there for this too. 


How to Avoid Getting Skunked


A curious pet can quickly get way too close for comfort, and since a mature skunk can accurately spray a target 8 ft away, with some sources claiming they have up to a 15 or 20 ft spray span. They also have control over whether the liquid comes out as a fine mist or a thick stream. Yikes. 


And don’t let those cute baby skunks (kits) fool you! By the time they’re three months old they are able to spray, albeit a little messily and probably not on target. But give them just a few more months and they’re nearly as effective as mom and dad.


Here are a few ways to keep your pet from getting skunked:


  • Since skunks are nocturnal, keep pets indoors at night and be extra alert if you walk your dog later in the day.
  • Keep your dog on a leash during walks so that you have more control and can remove them from the situation if they do encounter a skunk and don’t want to back down.
  • Skunks only spray if they’re threatened, as a last resort, so keep pets away from them if possible. They only store a few tablespoons of their foul spray at a time and it can take two weeks to replenish their supply.
  • Look for the warning signs: If a skunk can’t get away from its perceived attacker it will face your pet, hiss and growl, arch its back, raise its tail, and stomp its front feet. If all else fails, it will turn back around and release the stench at its target. Skunks can spray repeatedly if the first spray doesn’t end the threat.
  • Keep the areas your pets frequent clear from potential skunk hideouts. In summer that could be vegetation along streams or pond banks, lumber piles, or beneath porches, sheds, decks, or crawl spaces. Seal or block any areas that they could access for shelter.
  • Remove or contain easy food sources, like an open compost heap, open garden or dropped fruit, convenient garbage bin, or easily accessible pet food. They also enjoy foraging for grubs in the lawn, and there are natural and synthetic controls available commercially.


These are a few ways to prevent the stink. But that doesn’t guarantee that you won’t encounter a skunk. Just know that they have poor eyesight, startle easily, and they’re going to be scared of your pet–they don’t spray just for fun, folks! 


So use your skunk knowledge and keep your pet far away if you do come upon one. And if your pet does get sprayed, hopefully they’ll make a mental note of those white and black stripes and file them under “danger, stay away!” If they’re a little slow to catch on, at least you now have a way to clean up the aftermath.


If skunks seem to really love your property and spraying is a repeat problem, contact your vet and they can likely recommend a local (humane) wildlife control company. Commercial non-toxic repellants might also be worth a try. Remember that rabies can also be an issue with many wild critters–ask your vet about that too and follow their expert suggestions.


If you’re the vet who’s doing the recommending, feel free to share our article with clients, and know that we have your back when it comes to solid insurance for your petcare business. Get in touch, anytime! 

This blog post does not provide insurance advice and is intended for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional insurance advice from a licensed representative. Never ignore professional insurance advice because of something you have read in this blog post. Contact your licensed representative if you have any questions about your insurance policy.