As we continue to move into areas where wild animals make their homes, encounters between wildlife, dogs, and cats are only a matter of time. Skunks don’t go looking for trouble and prefer to give us and dogs a wide berth whenever possible. Unfortunately, close encounters happen, and sometimes you or your pet ends up getting sprayed by an angry skunk. Spraying is a skunk’s only defense so nature made the odor so it adheres to fur and can’t be rubbed off, which makes washing it off a dog or cat difficult to do.
Skunks belong to the Mephitidae family and are descendant from an ancestor that lived 30-40 million years ago. They are only found throughout the Americas, except for the Stink Badger which is found in the Philippines and Indonesia. Their easy to identify black with a white striped or spotted coat is a warning sign for predators to stay away.
These mild mannered and near-sighted cat sized critters are one of the most misunderstood creatures around. They don’t ambush an unsuspecting dog, cat, or human passing by, and have no desire to get into a conflict with us or any other animal. But they will defend themselves when necessary. The smelly spray comes from large scent glands under the tail and contains enough liquid for just a few attacks. Each gland has a papillae that is controlled by muscle. A skunk can accurately aim and spray a high powered spray up to 12 feet or release a mist for a predator to run through. When the glands run out, it can take some time for them to refill. Since the putrid spray is his primary defense, a skunk will give warnings before turning and releasing his spray. He isn’t going to use his spray unless he feels threatened.
The initial warning will include raising the tail in the air and stomping his front feet. If that doesn’t work he will try to scare you off with short charges and more stomping. They might show their teeth, grunt, and hiss. The skunk is starting to get really angry when he stands on his front legs in a hand stand. If all of his warning signs are ignored, he will turn himself into a U shape and release his spray. The spray isn’t life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable and cause a stinging sensation.
The spray contains a sulfur compound called thiol and is a smell humans and other animals are super sensitive to. Skunk spray is also made up of a chemical compound called thioacetate that slowly decomposes into thiol. This is why the spray hangs around for so long. So we get the initial smelly spray of thiols and then the lingering effect as the thioacetate breaks down. It’s hard to wash off because it’s oily and bonds to the fur of animals and our clothing.
If you or your pet is sprayed by a skunk, forget tomato juice. It only masks the smell and won’t get rid of it. The best solution is to use hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing liquid. It’s an easy recipe to follow, but Do Not mix this solution up and store it in a closed container. It could explode. Mix in an open plastic container large enough to hold the amount of cleaning solution needed. A large dog will require more than smaller dogs or cats so adjust the recipe as needed. Before putting the solution together, check your pet for bites or other injuries and call your vet if you find any. If none are found set up a bathing area outside, if possible, and prepare your de-skunking mixture.
Mix 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. The ingredients should be fresh and not something that’s been sitting around for awhile. Add ¼ cup baking soda, 2 teaspoons dishwashing soap, preferably one that cuts through grease, and 1 cup warm water. Mix well. There will be a bubbling chemical reaction between the hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Use the solution while it’s fizzing.
Wearing rubber gloves, lightly wet the coat with warm water, then begin to apply the solution liberally with a sponge where your dog or cat was sprayed and scrub it into the coat. Use the entire solution. Be careful to not get any of the solution in their eyes, ears, or mouth. It will burn. Let the solution set for at least five minutes, but 10 minutes or longer may be necessary if your pet received a direct hit. Rinse throughly with warm water, then follow with a regular bath. You may need to repeat the peroxide rinse several times to get all of the smell out. The longer the skunk spray stays on, the harder it is to wash off.
Healthy skunks are killed every year by people who fear they are rabid or about to spray. It’s true skunks are common carriers of the rabies virus, but not all of them have the virus. They have to be infected by another animal carrying the virus and will have signs that indicate they are sick.
Skunks are normally solitary and nocturnal, coming out at dusk and dawn to hunt. But, a mama skunk caring for her kits will hunt during the day when predators are less active so she’s with her babies at night to protect them. Skunks don’t hibernate and have strong and long front claws and are capable of digging their own burrow, but they usually move into abandoned dens made by other animals. They will also make a home inside hollow logs or trees, under rocks, under porches, in buildings, barns, or any dry and secure site. Females that live in colder climates will sometimes den together for warmth.
These critters are very beneficial for the environment and very efficient at controlling pests in gardens and in fields. At the urging of hop growers in New York, the first legislation to protect skunks was passed in 1893. Skunks aren’t affect by venomous creatures and eat poisonous snakes and spiders – including black widow and recluse spiders. Skunks also eat mice, rats, moles, and other small rodents, wasps, bees, grasshoppers, bugs of all kinds, worms, larvae, eggs, reptiles, small birds, fish, berries, grass, leaves, wild fruits, and carrion.
If your dog or cat is at the losing end when meeting a skunk, hopefully he’ll learn from the event. If you haven’t had to deal with skunk odor on your pet, knowing how to wash it off can help you take care of an unfortunate incident.
What to Do if Your Dog Attacks an Opossum
Droughts Can Increase Unexpected Wildlife Encounters for Pets and You
What to Do if Your Dog is Bitten by a Snake