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Dog Sprayed by a Skunk? Here’s What to Do! (Vet Answer)

Dr. Rebecca MacMillan (Vet) Profile Picture

By Dr. Rebecca MacMillan (Vet)

Skunk and chihuahua

Being sprayed by a skunk is not a pleasant experience for anyone! If your dog has been at the receiving end of a skunk attack, then you will probably want to know whether it is harmful, if there are any lasting effects, and what you can do to get rid of that skunk smell!!

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What is Skunk Spray?

A skunk is a small black and white mammal, about the size of a cat or small dog. Being omnivorous they spend a lot of time scavenging and can be seen in yards raiding trash for table scraps. Skunks, if provoked, will release an unpleasant liquid in a powerful jet from glands in their anus. This liquid spray can travel around 10 feet in distance and contains oily sulfuric chemicals called thiols which contribute to the strong smell. This defense mechanism has the intention of distracting or putting off potential attackers long enough for the skunk to make its escape.

The scent can be eye-wateringly pungent and is best avoided where possible. Unfortunately, inquisitive dogs can get caught out and will often get squirted directly in the face by a skunk!

a skunk
Image Credit: Pixabay

Why Do Dogs Get Sprayed By Skunks?

A skunk will spray if it is feeling threatened. They will often give some warning signs beforehand such as hissing, stamping their feet, and raising their tail. If these warnings are ignored, then the skunk will spray. This is their main defense mechanism which will help ward off predators, allowing the skunk to escape unharmed. Even a friendly and inquisitive dog may be seen as a threat by a skunk, especially if they get up close to have a sniff.

Dogs may also get sprayed by a skunk when investigating the trash themselves, or when exploring bushes and piles of branches, where skunks may be sheltering. Usually, the spray is off-putting enough that physical fights between dogs and skunks are rare.

Can Skunk Spray Harm a Dog?

Skunk spray can irritate if your dog gets it in his eyes or mouth. Your dog may go temporarily blind or be rubbing at his face. If his eyes seem red or sore, then gently use tepid water or an eyewash to rinse them. You should call your veterinarian if your dog still seems excessively uncomfortable though. Skin irritations are uncommon, but the odor can linger for a long time in his fur. Very occasionally a dog may vomit or froth if the spray ends up in his mouth.

In extremely rare cases the thiols in the skunk’s spray can cause oxidative damage to the dog’s red blood cells. This leads to anemia and the dog can become very poorly. There are not many reported cases of this occurring, but if you notice your dog’s gums becoming pale over the 24-48 hours following a skunk attack, it’s best to see a vet.

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What To Do If a Dog Gets Sprayed by a Skunk (6 Steps)

1. Keep your dog outside

You might be tempted to rush them indoors but don’t! It will only spread the odor around your home. Instead, try and clean your dog up outside.

2. Put on some gloves

Keep calm and put some gloves and perhaps an apron on before handling your dog. This will help reduce the amount of contact you make with the skunk’s spray when managing your pet.

3. Check your dog for injuries

Skunk spray could irritate if it gets in your pet’s eyes. Look for signs of inflammation or discomfort such as red eyes. You may need to gently rinse your dog’s eyes a few times with tepid water or eyewash. If your dog is foaming at the mouth, you may need to try and rinse his mouth out too- but be careful not to get bitten if he is distressed. You could try offering him water from a bowl to drink if he won’t let you wash his mouth out. Check him for any obvious external injuries as well such as bite wounds and scratches. Hopefully, he won’t have gotten close enough to the skunk to fight, but double-check, because there is the potential for getting infections from bite wounds such as rabies. Keeping your dog’s rabies shots up to date will help reduce the risk of this occurring.

4. Absorb the skunk spray

Use paper towels to try and absorb as much of the skunk spray from your dog’s fur as possible. Use a dabbing/blotting motion rather than wiping, to prevent the spread of secretions to other areas of the body.

5. Wash your dog

Use the remedy recommended below to wash your dog’s fur with. You may need to wash them a couple of times.

6. Consider taking your pet to the veterinarian

If you think your pet is injured or suffering from irritation, then ring your veterinarian for advice. They may recommend you bring your dog to the hospital for a check over.

skunk and Aussie shepherd puppy
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

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How to Get Skunk Smell off of a Dog?

There is a home remedy you can use to reduce the skunk odor on your dog’s fur, but it should be used with caution as it can cause skin irritation and bleaching of the coat. Mix up the following ingredients to use as a wash –

  • 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap (such as Dawn dish soap)

(Use this solution straight away – do not store it, as it could explode if left unattended in a closed container)

Wearing rubber gloves, lather the solution thoroughly into his coat. Do not leave it on too long before rinsing as it could potentially bleach his fur changing the color and make sure you don’t use hydrogen peroxide that is stronger than 3% as it could cause skin irritations. Use clean water to rinse the solution off. You may need to repeat this process more than once. Be very careful not to get this mix in your dog’s eyes.

If you do not have those ingredients, then you could try white vinegar diluted in water as an alternative home remedy instead. Lemon juice or tomato juice have also been said to help, but these are not as effective as the hydrogen peroxide solution.

There are also commercial products available for getting rid of skunk stink, such as special dog shampoos. These can be effective and are much safer than a home remedy. If you live in an area with lots of skunks you might want to purchase de-skunk shampoo in advance.

Following this, use your pet’s normal scented shampoo to remove any remaining residues from his coat and towel dry him. It is not recommended to spray your dog with Febreeze or any other deodorizing products, although doggy deodorant can be purchased and is safe to use.

Sometimes the odor can still linger because it is tricky to wash all areas of your dog’s body and completely deskunk them. This is especially the case around their eyes and ears if they were sprayed in the face. Using a sponge could help- but try to avoid getting any products directly in your dog’s eyes. If this accidentally occurs, you can rinse your dog’s eyes out gently with an eyewash or tepid water. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Preventing Your Dog From Getting Sprayed by a Skunk 

You may wish to look at your yard security if you are getting a lot of skunks on your property. Good fencing with chicken wire can help keep them out as can other deterrents such as having motion sensor lights. Skunks are nocturnal by nature so a bright light can put them off from hanging around. Keep your garbage well secured on your property so that it is not attracting attention from skunks who may try and scavenge in it. You can also block off any hiding places such as under your decking or in sheds/outbuildings- this will stop them from nesting there. Skunks will also feed on small rodents like rats and mice, so make sure you don’t have other concurrent pest problems too!

It is difficult to avoid chance encounters whilst out walking, but ensuring your dog has good recall training when he is off the leash can help if he does stumble across a skunk.

You might want to consider keeping a first aid kit at home if you have a lot of skunks in your area. Keep a proper eyewash for flushing eyes out and have de-skunking shampoo available for when it’s needed.

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Conclusion: Get Skunk Smell Off a Dog

Although we can’t always stop a skunk spray incident from occurring, hopefully, this article will help you deal with it should it ever happen to your dog. The main things to remember are to keep your pet outdoors following the incident, wear gloves, rinse his eyes out with saline or clean water, wash his coat thoroughly, and contact your veterinarian if things don’t seem right.

Featured Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

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