I went outside last night to let my dog out and heard quite a commotion coming from next door. I walked over to my neighbor’s backyard and found her hosing down her golden retriever Ansel and spewing some choice words.
As I got closer, the reason was apparent: a strong skunk odor was wafting in the wind. “My dog got skunked! What should I do?” she exclaimed. I calmed her down and headed inside to look for supplies.
The Stinky Mammal
Skunks are mammals known for their iconic stripes and smelly sprays. They average in size similar to that of a house cat and can live a few years in the wild. Skunks eat a varied diet, from fruits and nuts to reptiles and small mammals. They live almost exclusively in the United States.
Skunks are easily startled and do have a few warning signals they might give before spraying their opponent, such as purring (similar to a growl), raising their tails or stomping their front feet. If they still feel threatened, they will release a sulfuric spray that smells like burnt rubber or plastic. The oil-based spray comes from glands under the tail and is used to thwart predator attacks. If sprayed in the eyes with this liquid, animals can be blinded for up to two days.
Unfortunately, curious cats and dogs are often the victims of the spray, and the horrid smell has been known to last several months, if not years. There are many myths and old wives’ tales on how to remove it, but there is one remedy that stands above the rest.
Commercial skunk odor removers can be found in stores and online. Prices can vary up to $90 for some of these products:
- Nature’s Miracle
- Earth Friendly
- Fur Clean Deodorizing Shampoo
- Skunk Off
These cleaners and odor removers seem to have widely mixed reviews across the internet, and they are no help when the stores are closed at night (skunks are nocturnal, so most sprays occur at night or early morning).
Old wives’ tales suggest using mouthwash or tomato juice, but many reports and studies advise against using tomato juice. Not only does it not remove the smell and can add in a tomato odor, but it also can be harmful to cats (the extent of which is not known).
There is a chance that remaining juice not fully washed off will attract insects and ants, and there is also the unfortunate possibility of your pet shaking off the moisture when bathing. Your bathroom might look like a horror movie scene when finished!
One remedy that has been used and praised since it was created is a hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and detergent mixture created by chemist Paul Krebaum. Here’s what you need:
- 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide (new, unopened bottle if possible)
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1-2 teaspoons liquid soap (dish soap is fine; Dawn is recommended often for its grease-cutting properties)
- Latex gloves
Prepare an open container for the mixture and never use a closed container or store the solution. Stored or sealed solution has the possibility of explosion, and that would create an entirely new problem (as well as danger to life and limb). So, let’s repeat that: Do not use a closed container.
The best results are obtained by using the mixture immediately after it is combined, so hold off on making the solution until you are ready to apply it to the animal’s fur.
The Plan of Attack
- Do not wait to clean your pet. The longer the skunk spray stays on your dog or cat, the more time it has to dry and seep further in.
- Contain the stink! If your dog or cat is outdoors and you are able to wash it outside, keep it there. If the pet is indoors, get it into a bathroom immediately and do not allow it to touch any furnishings.
- Change your clothes into something you don’t mind ruining, and get the supplies and latex gloves ready.
- Using paper towels, try to soak up as much of the spray as possible (cloth or cotton towels may retain the smell). Wipe only the affected area so the oil does not spread.
- Mix the solution in an open container. You didn’t forget, did you? Never use a closed container.
- If your pet’s collar is fabric or cloth and also affected by the skunk spray, leave it on for the bath.
- Apply the mixture directly to the area most affected while avoiding the eyes, nose and mouth. Allow it to sit for at least five minutes. If your pet has long fur and it is possible to completely remove the affected area by cutting or trimming the fur, this is another option.
- Rinse off the solution thoroughly with warm water and wash the animal with its regular pet shampoo. Rinse and dry.
- Pour any remaining solution down the drain. Remember, do not store any leftover solution. If more treatments are needed, mix another batch of the solution for each treatment.
If the face or head of your cat or dog was affected by the skunk spray, the eyes can be flushed with saline solution and mineral oil applied to the eyes to avoid stinging or redness from the bath. The mineral oil can be removed afterward by flushing with saline solution. The nostrils and mouth can be wiped with a paper towel or cotton balls soaked in the saline solution.
Milk is reportedly an effective way to treat the eyes and face that were affected by the spray. Whether using the suggested solution or adding your own ideas, buying extra supplies to keep on hand can be a lifesaver for a repeat occurrence.
Skunks can carry rabies. If you find any evidence of a bite, scratch or foaming/drooling of the mouth, get your dog or cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Always keep your vaccinations current and check your pets’ records for the date of their last rabies shot.
Small dogs may be at risk for additional medical trouble depending on how much of the spray enters their respiratory system. Use the recommended cleaning solution and prepare to visit the vet as soon as possible for a thorough assessment.
Alternative (Emergency) Alternatives
In the event that all stores in your area are closed and you are hit with a nighttime spray, these alternatives can help to temporarily reduce the odor if you don’t have the other ingredients:
- Douche (that’s right, the feminine product)
- Milk for the eyes and nose
- Apple cider vinegar
- Listerine or peppermint mouthwash
- Quart of beer (the yeast cultures are rumored to help break down the oil)
Several people reported using apple cider vinegar since they did not have hydrogen peroxide and the solution still worked well. Adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the solution can also help leave a pleasing scent after the treatment.
Household and Clothing Issues
Wash affected clothes, towels or cotton items as soon as possible; vinegar and baking soda can be added for additional effectiveness to the detergent. To remove the odor from your house, boil vinegar and water or place vanilla-soaked cotton balls in bowls in different rooms. Bowls of bleach can also be used, but this method can be dangerous to kids and pets.
Look outside your home for evidence of burrowing/nesting areas of skunks or points of entry. Skunks can also be found under decks or in crawl spaces near and under the house. If you are able to find their location or point of entry, place mothballs in and around the same area. The mothballs may be moved around in the days that follow, but keep placing them until they remain stationary. Eventually the skunk will avoid the area.
Let’s hope you’ve been able to get rid of the smell and can say you survived being skunked! If you have, welcome to the skunk survival club. If not, give these suggestions a try and tell us how you managed. Ansel needed a second treatment of the hydrogen peroxide mixture, and my neighbor was happy to report that the smell was completely gone.
If your cat or dog hasn’t been skunked yet, but you live in an area where that’s a distinct possibility, then please do yourself a favor and bookmark this page for future reference.