The Skunk Smell in the Room (On Removing the Most Stubborn Aroma Ever)

Dr. Patty Khuly

skunk spray on dog

It’s almost that time of year again: the season of the skunk. It happens when the skunk makes its way out of its winter-time hidey-holes and roams the landscape in rural and settled suburban locales alike. Unsuspecting dogs, when happening upon them (or when letting their curiosity or prey-drive get the better of them), may frighten them into unleashing their potential for harm in the guise of a noxious spray that has the power to repel, repulse, and remain indefinitely infused in your dog’s coat.

Enter the need for this practical how-to post. In it, I hope to instruct you in the ways of the skunk and how to manage the smell on your dog.

WhySkunk spray, the animal’s notorious chemical defense weapon, is one of nature’s true wonders. Arising from the anal sacs (similar but far more developed than that of our dogs or cats), this glandular secretion is a potent brew composed of sulfur-containing compounds that can not only be detected miles away but reportedly have the capacity to chemically-repel attackers as ferocious and determined as bears, potentially blinding them temporarily.

What’s more, the robust musculature surrounding its anal sacs gives a skunk the ability to spray (shockingly accurately!) from up to ten feet away. Now that’s a super power!

Impressive as it is, and appreciative as we are that the lowly skunk can manage to thwart its evaders with such humility (everyone loves an underdog), we’d like them way better if they could keep their smell off our dogs. After all, there’s nothing quite as distastefully overwhelming to the human senses as eau de skunk.

Unfortunately, dogs don’t seem to mind it so much. After the shock of the repulsive encounter (after the spray they usually –– but not always –– leave the poor skunk alone), most dogs seem to shake off the effects on their own senses, leaving it up to their blameless humans to come up with remedies meant to remove the stuff from their haircoats.

Trouble is, the stuff is usually well-dispersed enough that a complete nose-to-tail wash, several times over, is usually poorly ineffective. In my experience, so is the tomato juice cocktail so many people swear by (you’ve doubtless heard of that one or even tried it yourself). Even after this ignoble attempt at vanquishing the odor, the effects almost always linger on, typically for many days.

Sadly, I’m well-versed in skunkings. After practicing ER medicine for a couple of years in prime skunk territory and fielding many nighttime emergencies related to skunks, I became adept at recommending remedies. Here was my standard approach to these skunk-on-dog cases:

  1. If your dog’s eyes are red and/or s/he’s pawing at them please come in so we can examine them. Otherwise, please stay home!
  2. Give an overall soapy bath as quickly as possible to get as much of the stuff off your pet as possible. Wear gloves and disposable clothing and consider using a mild, degreasing kitchen product (like Dawn® dish soap).
  3. Mix one quart of hydrogen peroxide with one-third cup of baking soda and a dash of the grease-cutting soap (double the recipe for a really big dog). Pour into a spray bottle and spray liberally onto the affected pet. Disperse into the hair, massaging into the skin like a shampoo.
  4. Rinse and reapply, let sit for at least an hour before the final rinse, or leave it on overnight if you must.

Alternatively, you can outsource this job to your local vet or groomer but I warn you: It will cost you. No one wants to stink up their place with a skunked dog. If one is available and willing, a mobile groomer is your best bet.

Sounds like fun, right?

Sure, a skunking is a life-altering experience, but think of it this way: If you can handle skunk smell, you can pretty much handle any aroma that comes your way, living or dead. It puts things into perspective, including how much you must really, really love your dog.

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