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Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center

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What to do when your dog gets skunked


Skunks are notorious for their defense mechanism — a spray with an unmistakably pungent odor. Pet owners seldom witness their pets being sprayed by a skunk, but the smell is uniquely unpleasant.

Depending where on their body a dog gets sprayed, being skunked can generally be handled at home by decontaminating your dog with a special bathing formula. However, in some scenarios, a veterinary exam may be necessary.

Getting sprayed in the face can often cause eye irritation or damage. Dogs with multiple skunk spray exposures or a severe reaction to skunk spray could also develop dangerous anemia.

When are dogs most likely to get sprayed by a skunk?

Skunks are most active during dawn and dusk in the warm weather months. While skunks are relatively docile creatures, if they feel threatened, they will defend themselves by spraying their musk — a thick, oily and stinky secretion expelled from the anal glands — as far as 7 to 15 feet toward their target.

Some dogs may be more likely to have a skunk encounter based on their temperament and geographic location.

What makes skunks’ smell so hard to get rid of?

The secretions from a skunk’s anal glands contain a mixture of sulfur-containing thiols and thioacetates. Thiols are immediately very pungent. Thioacetates are not as initially smelly, but when mixed with water, they convert to thiols. Because of this, any thioacetates trapped in the dog’s fur will cause a dog to continue to smell skunky after a bath from exposure to water. The dog may smell slightly of skunk when wet for a few months afterward if they are not entirely eliminated.

Are there any medical concerns from skunk spray?

If skunk spray gets in the eyes, it can cause swelling and redness to the eye, damage the cornea (outer surface of the eye) and even cause temporary blindness. If sprayed in the face, the dog can inhale the spray and experience respiratory irritation. Or if they get it in their mouth, it can cause nausea, drooling and vomiting.

In rare cases, severe anemia can develop a few hours to 24 hours after exposure. Anemia occurs from the skunk spray’s chemicals damaging red blood cells. Anemia may be more likely after a heavy spray, multiple exposures or ingestion of the spray. The dog may become weak, turning their mucous membranes into a chocolate color.

Dogs should be closely monitored for 1-3 days after exposure and taken to a veterinarian immediately if these signs occur. They may require IV fluids or other supportive measures, including a blood transfusion. Veterinarians may recommend blood work to monitor their health if a heavy spray or multiple skunk spray exposures have occurred.

Should I be concerned with rabies if a skunk sprays my dog?

Rabies is transmitted by bites from an infected animal. Skunks are carriers of rabies, but most dogs that a skunk spray are not in close enough proximity to get bitten. All dogs should be kept up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. If a skunk bites your dog, seek veterinary care immediately.

How can I help prevent my dog from being sprayed by a skunk?

  • Avoid going off-trails in densely wooded areas with your dog.
  • Use caution when your dog goes out in the yard at dawn and dusk.
  • Eliminate readily available food sources in the yard (e.g. pet food, access to garbage or compost heaps).
  • Eliminate sources for shelter by blocking access to sheds and areas beneath your deck or porch, as well as removing piles of brush or wood.

What should I do if a skunk sprays my dog?

If the spray is not causing serious distress to your dog, you can decontaminate the oils and odor by bathing them in a specific formula. This can be a homemade remedy, or if your dog is likely to be a repeat offender, consider keeping store-bought supplies on hand.

Keep your pet outside while washing them because the oils from the skunk’s spray can be difficult to remove from fabric.

Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog gets sprayed directly in the eyes or mouth. Severely skunked dogs should be monitored for signs such as lethargy, weakness and lack of appetite.

How can I get rid of the skunk odor on my dog?

Commercial over-the-counter products, such as Thornell’s Skunk-Off and Nature's Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, can be purchased at most pet stores. Most of these products are also safe to use on fabric and carpets.

You can use a homemade recipe if you cannot purchase an over-the-counter skunk odor remover. The thiol chemical in skunk spray is not water-soluble, even with soap. A combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide will oxidize the thiols into water-soluble sulfonates and neutralize the thiols. The hydrogen peroxide will lighten the fur of black dogs to a bronze color and bleach fabric or clothing.

Over-the-counter products do not contain hydrogen peroxide, which means they won't change the color of black dogs’ fur.