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How to Remove the Skunk Smell From Your Dog

By Dr. Patty Khuly

skunk spray on dog

It’s 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 may frighten them into unleashing their 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 remove the smell from your dog.

Why Skunks Spray

The skunk’s notorious chemical defense weapon is one of nature’s true wonders. Arising from the anal sacs, 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 - even potentially blinding them temporarily.

What’s more, the robust musculature surrounding its anal sacs gives a skunk the ability to spray 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, 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, 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.<

How to Remove the Skunk Smell

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, veterinary attention is not needed.
  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 giant-breed dogs that have been sprayed. 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; However, 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.

How to Prevent Skunk Encounters

Homeowners can set up humane traps, repellents, and fencing to avoid skunks from coming in to the yard and spraying. Live skunk traps are a great way to get a skunk confined; however, attempting to then remove the trap is the tricky part and skunks spray when threatened (and a human approaching them may give them that feeling.

Humane Traps and Repellents

There are many natural options:

  1. Dog and fox urine: dogs and foxes are popular predators of skunks. Spraying their urine around your yard will deter the skunky visitors.
  2. Citrus: citrus peels and smells are natural skunk deterrents. But be sure not to scatter peels around your yard as the waste may attract other unwanted prey.
  3. Ammonia: soaking old rags in ammonia and placing them under your deck, porch, or in other sheltered areas will stop skunks from coming in.

Cut Down on "Skunk Hospitality”

Make sure that all food is properly stored in garbage cans or set outside of where your dog goes out. This eliminates the possibility of skunks wandering into your yard looking for scraps. Additionally, get rid of any shelter the skunk may find appealing. Fill ground burrows, set up fencing, and make sure all sheds, garages, or shelter-like structures are impenetrable.

Letting Your Dogs Out at Night

When letting your dog out at night, go with them. Turn on any lights to allow more visibility in your yard and keep an out while your dog uses the bathroom. This way, skunks are more likely to avoid well-lit areas and if you happen to see one you can call your dog inside before the big show happens.

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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