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Skunks: P.U. — Stinky!

The skunk: an easily identifiable, cute, black-and-white animal (also known as polecats by some) with a nasty spray. Here at Greenbrier we receive numerous calls from clients about what to do when they find a skunk on their property, or when their pet (usually a dog) has been sprayed in the face.

Luckily the majority of skunk-sprayed animals will be fine, except for having a potent smell for days or even more than a week. After being sprayed, most pets will act as if they have been blinded and will have increased tear production and often a generalized red color to the eyes. Often a pet in this condition will paw at its face and nose. The best first step to treatment is rinsing the pet’s eyes with saline solution — the same solution used for contact lenses.

The next thing to do is attempt “de-skunk” the smell of your pet. Despite many rumors, tomato juice DOES NOT do the trick, and using this method will merely leave you with an animal that smells like both skunk and tomato juice. The best thing to use is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap or dish detergent, with the following recipe:

  • 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid soap or dish detergent

Mix the three ingredients and apply liberally while washing your dog, then rinse with fresh water. You can repeat the washing several times and let the solution sit on the dog for 5-10 minutes each time. Unfortunately, the mixture is not stable once it is combined, so you will need to make a new solution each day you apply it. Be very careful to avoid getting the solution in your pet’s eyes, and try to keep your pet from drinking it (although drinking it will only upset his/her stomach, but likely will not do any real harm).

If you think there is any chance the skunk could have bitten your pet (especially if your pet killed the skunk), we recommend a rabies booster vaccine. Rabies is not spread through the spray, but generally only through saliva and blood. Your daytime vet can boost your pet’s rabies vaccine if you are concerned, as this is not generally an emergency.

Skunks are most active at night and move slowly. They are attracted to outside pet food bowls (just like raccoons and opossums), open garbage containers, and unsealed compost piles — so try to get rid of these kinds of attractions or protect/cover them, if possible. If you let your pet outside at night, use a leash if you suspect a skunk is on your property. Skunks usually try to give plenty of warning prior to spraying, so if you see one outside or startle one during a walk, you may have time to get away prior to being sprayed. Even baby skunks as young as 8 days can spray, so avoid the impulse to get too close, regardless of how cute they may seem. Skunks are active most of the year, but usually more so in the warmer months. While not true hibernators, they can go through a dormant stage for several weeks during cold weather.

A condition known as skunk toxic shock syndrome, which is VERY rare, occurs when some of the compounds in a skunk’s spray (thioacetates) destroy a pet’s healthy red blood cells. An animal experiencing this syndrome initially presents with weakness and pale gums and progresses to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and anemia. While very rare, keep this syndrome in mind if your pet develops these symptoms hours or days after being sprayed, and have him/her examined by your regular veterinarian.

Hopefully this information will prove helpful if your animal is sprayed by a skunk, and it might even save you an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.

© 2013 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

15 Comments
  1. Reply
    Carol

    any special food for them to eat the day after they were sprayed? Something that will work their insides to get reallyreally cleaned out? Pls let me know if you know of anything else I should be doing.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Nothing specific, just normal food. You can add some canned pumpkin (the stuff used in pumpkin pie) to help add some fiber and move the system along.

  2. Reply
    Hannah

    Hi, I have a border terrier that weighs 26 lbs. And has been sprayed by a skunk. We had bathed him twice in dish soap then read about the provide mixture so bathed him again this morning at 4am. He was itching so bad. He is now just hiding under my bed with little whimpers. My husband just went for the Apple cider vinegar and I’m wondering if I should apply this as well? I feel so bad for him any help would be welcomed.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Keep washing him and make sure his air way is clear and his eyes are ok. The skunk spray can damage eyes and airways. Otherwise its usually just stinky. Try the mixtures recommended.

  3. Reply
    kariann

    my puppy got sprayed by a skunk couple days ago now she is lethargic at first I was worried she might have gotten bit by the skunk but now I am.wondering if it could be the rare toxic shock syndrome what do you do for this and what are some of the other symptoms for this.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Go see your vet. There is nothing you can do at home or test for at home. It is very rare and might be a red herring or another underlying disease. Skunks also can carry rabies if she is not 100% vaccinated.

  4. Reply
    John

    my dog was bitten by a skunk last night. I heard her make a god awful scream and initially she could not/would not walk on her hind legs. After several minutes she was up and walking again, though gingerly. Took her to the emergency vet. They found nothing abnormal. She just received her three year rabies vaccination. I’m noticing that while she seems to be walking OK, she is hesitant to jump up on bed, needs assistance. Any thoughts?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      If they found nothing wrong then maybe she is sore or has a bad bruise? Maybe they missed something in the hair and there is a wound they did not see?? Sounds like something is going on. Wait a day to see if it improves then bring her for a follow up.

  5. Reply
    John

    PS to comment above. She also has no appetite.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      I would see your regular vet for a re-exam. SOunds like an infection?

  6. We recently left our border collie -jack russell 4 yr old male dog out for the weekend at our farm. We noticed when we returned the dog smelled like it was slightly sprayed by a skunk scent. Were not sure if he was sprayed or bit since we were not home. He was acting hyper, but is a hyper dog anyway. He did throw up some mucus saliva like stuff this morning and seemed fine. I really don’t notice anything tremendously different about him other than a smell of a slightly. I don’t see any foam or change in his mouth area and is due for his current rabies. Should I be concerned at all?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Hard to evaluate from afar but if he smells like a skunk then you need to bath him as the smell can really irritated his mucous membranes and make him sick. Watch him after the good bath and see if he gets better and if not then take him to a vet.

      • Reply
        Dr. Stewart

        PS: Wash him more than once.

  7. Reply
    Pat Reid

    My dog got sprayed mostly in her mouth and face, cleaned up really good and doesn’t smell any more but the next day had I think an abscess on her back around what looked like a puncture wound. I drained it of pus and it smelled like skunk. Cleaned it out and put peroxide on it. Seems to be ok but not sure if she was bitten or clawed or if this is something that happens when they ingest skunk spray?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Skunk spray is very caustic and can cause mucous membrane irritation. I would be much more concerned about the skunk bite as they are severe Rabies carriers in most of the country. See a vet about the wounds.

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