One odor never prompts you to wonder, “What’s that smell?”

A skunk’s spray is like no other—with its foul, sulfur-like stench and oily composition, the spray’s noxious fumes linger on skin and fur, and, in a cruel twist of fate, grow stronger when doused with water.   

Panicked pet owners frequently call Urgent Pet Care Omaha after their pet has been skunked, but, fortunately, being sprayed by a skunk does not usually require veterinary attention, and is not an emergency unless your pet shows clinical illness signs. Most owners simply need to know how to put an end to the repulsive odor. For these cases, we share the following de-skunking instructions, and tips for reducing the risk of future skunk encounters.

How did this happen to my pet?

Skunks are typically docile animals that mind their own business. However, a pet’s natural curiosity may be perceived as threatening. Skunks will first try to deter an approaching threat with a few polite warnings, such as hissing and stomping, but when that fails, they lift their tail and release an oily spray from their anal sacs. The skunk aims in the direction of the threat—probably your pet’s face.

Skunks can spray several feet, and pets often take the brunt of the spray on their face, head, front legs and body. 

How can skunk spray be everywhere, when only my pet was sprayed?

Skunk spray is oil-based and contains volatile compounds (i.e., thiols) that bond with skin and hair, and are easily converted to a gas-state. This fast conversion means that the skunk’s odor can rapidly take over an environment, especially in an enclosed space, such as a barn or shed, or your home, if you mistakenly allow your pet back inside.

Resist the temptation to hose down your pet immediately after being skunked, because the skunk spray’s oily nature does not rinse out, and becomes stronger when wet.

Should I bring my pet to Urgent Pet Care Omaha?

For most pets, being skunked is nothing more than an inconvenience, although a  minor, temporary irritation may occur that causes:

  • Eye swelling or discomfort
  • Rolling or rubbing the face or eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Temporary blindness

If your pet is sprayed in their eyes or mouth, we recommend a veterinary evaluation. In rare cases, skunk toxicosis can occur, and cause dangerous changes to your pet’s hemoglobin (i.e., the oxygen-carrying portion of a red blood cell). Skunk toxicosis can appear 24 hours after skunk exposure. Have your pet examined by a veterinarian if clinical signs persist, or your pet’s condition suddenly changes.  

How do I remove the skunk smell from my pet?

To neutralize skunk odor, the chemical components described above must be completely broken down. Many commercial de-skunking treatments are available, but you probably won’t have them on hand unless your pet has been skunked before. Fortunately, an effective formula can be made from common household items. Follow these steps:

  • Keep your pet outside — If you haven’t already, do not bring your pet inside. Your pet may rub the skunk oil on furniture or carpet, making your clean-up more difficult. Bathe your pet outdoors or in a garage, if possible.
  • Treat the eyes — Check your pet’s eyes for redness or irritation. If your pet appears uncomfortable, flush their eyes with cool, clean water,or saline solution. Seek veterinary attention if their discomfort continues.
  • Glove up, scrub up — Oil can bind with your bare skin, so glove up to scrub up, and wear old clothes.
  • Make de-skunking magic — Never premix or store these ingredients together, as they can explode in a closed container.
    • In a large bottle, combine:
      • One quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
      • One-quarter cup baking soda
      • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap
    • Substitute white vinegar diluted with water if you do not have these ingredients.
    • Massage the solution throughout your pet’s coat. Do not allow the product to get in your pet’s eyes, or allow the product to sit too long—peroxide can bleach dark hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Follow up with shampoo — Bathe your pet with a standard dog or cat shampoo and rinse them completely. Towel off your pet, and keep them somewhere warm until completely dry.

How can I prevent my pet from being skunked in the future?

To avoid a skunk encounter, you need to understand where and when skunks are most mobile. Skunks are active during the warmer months at dawn and dusk, and mate during early spring. Because skunks do not make much noise, you may not know your pet has found a skunk until it is too late. To reduce your pet’s risk, try the following:

  • Accompany your pet outside during peak skunk hours.
  • Deter skunks from your yard with motion-detecting lights.
  • Clear debris from around your home, and remove garbage cans and pet food bowls. 

Many pets learn to recognize and avoid the infamous black and white striped creature after their initial encounter, but other pets never make the connection. Be prepared for a skunking by keeping the ingredients for our de-skunking recipe on hand. Remember—never pre-mix the solution, which can explode.

If your pet is experiencing illness after being sprayed by a skunk, contact your veterinarian. For after-hours care or emergency services, contact Urgent Pet Care Omaha.