Written by Ella White
So your dog’s been sprayed by a skunk. It’s an unpleasant event for both pup and owner – but one that many dog walkers in the USA and Canada will experience. And while you might be considering shaving off their gorgeous fur and starting anew with a fresh, un-skunked coat, the good news is you don’t need to go quite that far.
In this article we will look at what skunk spray is, and how to get it out of your dog’s fur.
Skunks, native to the USA and Canada, are known for their pungent smell, which is released from their anal glands when they feel they are under attack. It sounds horrible, and the smell is even worse.
Though the musk comes from the skunk’s anal glands, it is not fecal matter. It’s made from the same combination of chemicals that can be found in rotten eggs, and once a skunk has released its spray it can take weeks for their body to replenish. This means that skunks are not likely to spray easily or unprovoked without prior warning signals, and if your dog does get sprayed by your neighborhood skunk, it probably won’t happen again for a while.
While its purpose is to repel animals as large as bears, a skunk’s spray is not generally harmful to animals or humans. If inhaled, it can cause temporary breathing difficulties and nausea. If sprayed near the eyes it can cause temporary blindness, so look out for your dog squinting and itching their eyes in the days after their skunking, as they might need to see a vet if the symptoms persist.
Being skunked is not a pleasant experience for dogs, and some may suffer from anxiety afterwards. So try to keep them calm, give them lots of cuddles (once the odor is gone!) and if they still appear distressed days after the event, see your vet who should be able to help with calming solutions.
If you’re out on a walk, or your dog is pottering in the garden and gets sprayed by a skunk, their coat will need to be rinsed as soon as possible. However, do not bring your dog inside. The pungent odor of skunk spray can permeate furniture and will linger in your home long after your pet’s coat is clean.
Keep them outside, and check their eyes – particularly if you know that they have been sprayed face-on. Skunk spray can cause redness and irritation and if left untreated can lead to permanent damage. So if it has affected their eyes then you will need to lightly rinse them out with cool, clean water.
Next, it’s time to wash their coat. But remember to avoid bringing them indoors if it’s at all possible. If you have access to a paddling pool or tarp you can use this as a washing station, but grass or even pavement will do.
Step 1: Rinse them with clean water
Once you’ve checked your dog's eyes and found a spot outside to start the washing process, spray them down or douse them in clean, cool water to rinse the odor from the fur. Commercial shampoos are not effective in removing this type of chemical from the fur, so rinsing them down can help remove any excess odor before you get to scrubbing.
Step 2: Choose your cleaning product
There are many solutions to skunk-spray cleaning on the market, including chemical sprays and shampoos that can neutralize the odor. But if this is the first time your dog has been skunked, you might not have this to hand. In which case, add it to your shopping list and for now, opt for an at-home treatment. Trust us: you don’t want to waste time heading to the store while your dog is still covered in skunk.
A homemade cleaning solution can be made using mild liquid soaps, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and other household items you’re likely to have in the store cupboard. Some even suggest that feminine hygiene products and tomato juice can be effective skunk-odor killers… and we’ll get to which is most effective in the next section.
Step 3: Wash your dog – thoroughly
Once you’ve got your washing solution ready, it’s time for business. Don rubber gloves and use a washcloth to gently apply the detergent to your dog’s coat, being careful to avoid their eyes. Make sure they are fully covered, from snout to tail and root to tip. Full coverage – even on areas that you don’t think are affected – is the only way to ensure that odor will truly be gone.
You might want toys, treats, and other distractions to hand as some dogs might find this part of the process almost as distressing as being sprayed by a skunk in the first place.
Step 4: Let it soak in
Once they’re lathered up, let the detergent soak on your dog’s fur for up to five minutes. The longer you can leave it, the more effective it will be at removing the odor. However, if you have used a hydrogen peroxide solution then be aware that this can bleach the fur. So owners of dark-haired dogs might prefer to leave the solution on for less time.
Step 5: Rinse
Thoroughly rinse the solution from your dog’s fur, making sure it is completely removed and the water runs clear with no soapy bubbles. Remaining solution will be holding the odor that has been removed so it’s important to make sure it’s all gone. If you’re using a shop-bought chemical solution, this can be harsh on your dog’s skin so it’s essential that none is left after rinsing.
Step 6: Shampoo again
Once the deodorizing detergent has been fully rinsed out, shampoo them using their regular product. This will make sure their fur is extra clean and that all the solution is gone. Do not blow dry your dog, as this can ‘bake’ any residual odors into the fur. Instead, towel dry them or leave them to dry naturally.
Step 7: Check for odors
Now, the smell should be gone. But if it’s not you can always take your dog to the groomer for a professional treatment. You will also want to wash your own clothes and make sure there are no remnants of skunk odor on your hands or skin – we did say wear rubber gloves!
Sadly, a healthy dose of soap and water isn’t going to be enough to get rid of pungent skunk spray. For the first wash, you’ll want to use one of the following solutions.
Many pet stores and websites will stock specialized shampoos that are effective in neutralizing the odor of skunk spray. They use a blend of enzymes and chemicals to remove the smell from animals’ fur and can be used like a regular shampoo. The old adage, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it applies here - add it to the shopping list today!
Similar products are available in spray form to get the smell out of clothing, carpet, and other soft furnishings.
If you don’t already have these products to hand when your dog has been sprayed by a skunk, you’ll likely need to turn to home remedies.
The most popular home made solution for skunk odors was developed by chemist Paul Krebaum, and it’s been hailed by experts and dog owners alike.
Combine 950 ml of fresh hydrogen peroxide (lower than 3%), 60 ml of baking soda, and up to 10 ml of dish soap or laundry detergent in an open container. This is the solution you will lather into your dog’s coat in step 3 of the section above and wearing rubber gloves to protect your skin from the chemical is crucial.
Get rid of any leftover mixture and do not attempt to store it for future use as the combination of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda can cause an explosive reaction.
Feminine Hygiene Products
If you have no hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to hand, some experts say that feminine hygiene products like Massengill can be effective in neutralizing skunk odors. However, you should never use human products on your dog without consulting your vet first.
Some people believe that tomato juice can act as a deodorizer, although others say that it is ineffective. What it does do is offer a temporary relief from that skunky odor, as it overwhelms the scent. However, this does wear off – but it makes a good delaying tactic while you rush to the store to buy a commercial product or ingredients for a home remedy!
Of course, the best way to stop your dog’s coat from smelling like skunk spray is to avoid them getting attacked by skunks in the first place. Of course this can be easier said than done, especially if your pup is an outdoor adventurer. But these tips could help you and your dog avoid skunks and their spray in future: