What To Do When A Skunk Sprays Your Dog

Key takeaway

Skunk spray is pungent and smells like rotten eggs. When a skunk sprays your dog, you must act fast. Since the oils in skunk spray cause the smell, you must break them down as soon as possible. Unfortunately, skunk spray can be harmful to a dog if they're sprayed in the face, mouth, or eyes.

Everyone knows the smell of skunks; they produce a pungent odor similar to that of burnt matches or rotten eggs. You may have smelled it when you’re driving down the road or even when you are taking your dog out for a walk.

Skunks will spray as a defense mechanism, so dogs getting sprayed by skunks is more common than you might think. It typically happens to dogs that are allowed to roam free in their yards. However, it can also happen when your dog is off-leash on a hike or if you happen upon a skunk while on a walk. Dogs like to chase animals in the yard, and sometimes they might scare a skunk, forcing it to release the dreaded spray. While being sprayed by a skunk doesn't happen to every dog, it's always best for pet parents to be prepared. Skunk spray can be harmful to a dog, especially if it gets in their eyes or mouth. Meanwhile, the smell alone is enough to cause anxiety in dogs because it's pungent. In addition, the odor is very strong in close proximity, and your dog can rub it off on things all over the house, leaving your home smelling like skunk for days or weeks. 

Wondering how to get rid of the skunk smell on a dog? Then, you've come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about skunk encounters and how you can care for your dog after a skunk sprays them. 

What Is Skunk Spray?

Skunks produce a foul-smelling volatile yellow oil from their anal glands when threatened, spraying it as far as 15 feet

Knowing the chemical composition of skunk spray can help you understand how to better nullify its noxious odor. The spray is a skunk's anal gland secretions that they use to scare off predators. Their anal glands secrete a yellow oil that evaporates and turns into a gas made of organic sulfur-containing thiols, thioacetate, and methyl quinoline. The thiols are what produces the spray’s sulfur-like smell and can easily bind to the skin. When combined with water, the thioacetates can become thiols, which is why skunk spray odor is so hard to remove and why the smell can worsen after a bath.1 

Why Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks spray when threatened as a way to defend themselves. They are very accurate when spraying, and their spray can reach up to 15 feet away from them. When the skunk sprays your dog, it's likely because your dog scared them. Even if your dog wasn't chasing them, a skunk may see your dog and believe they are a predator, spraying them from far away.

Skunks usually show signs before spraying, such as hissing, stamping its feet, and raising its tail. Unfortunately, your dog doesn't speak skunk, and even if they did, they wouldn't believe a skunk is a threat in most cases. Therefore, dogs are easily sprayed before they even realize what's happened to them.2 

Does My Skunk Sprayed Dog Need To See A Vet?

Seek immediate veterinary care if a skunk sprays your dog directly in the eyes or mouth, if your dog has existing open wounds, or if your dog was bitten or scratched 

In many cases, your dog won't need to see a vet when a skunk sprays them. However, oral, skin, eye, and respiratory types of exposure to skunk spray can be harmful to a dog's health. Dermal exposure simply means that your dog was sprayed somewhere on their skin and coat. While some dogs may experience skin reactions or irritation from skunk spray, these cases are usually not serious. 

Of course, the severity of skunk spray depends on how close the skunk was to the dog and where it sprayed. If your dog is sprayed in the face or eyes, it's more serious and may require vet intervention. 

After a skunk sprays your dog, they may roll around, sneeze, paw at their face, squint, or drool, depending on where they were sprayed. In most cases, these side effects should subside as soon as the oils are removed. However, more serious side effects of skunk spray in dogs include:

In addition, in rare cases, skunk spray has caused Heinz body anemia, in which only one of two dogs recovered. The thiols in skunk spray can cause oxidative damage to hemoglobin.3 

If you see where your dog is sprayed by a skunk and know it didn't affect their face or respiratory system or get in their mouth, you can monitor your pet for signs of illness. Of course, you can also consult your vet to see if you should take them in for examination. Always take your dog to the vet if they experience redness or irritation in the eyes, were sprayed in the mouth, or were wounded by the animal since skunks can carry rabies and distemper. If your dog is up to date on their vaccines, you don't have to worry about rabies, but it might still be a good idea to have them seen by a vet if they came into close contact with the skunk. 

How To Get Skunk Smell Off A Dog

When a skunk sprays your dog, it'll be more potent than what you are used to smelling when outdoors, so you shouldn't let them in your home immediately after being sprayed. The oils bind to the skin, so removing those as soon as possible is crucial. If your dog isn't experiencing negative side effects and seem mainly affected by the odor, you can follow these steps after they're sprayed: 

Keep Your Dog Outside

The oils responsible for the skunk smell can rub off on furniture, walls, and carpet in your home, so it's best to keep your dog outside. If they carry the smell indoors, it can last for days, and unless you want to keep the windows open constantly, it's always best to keep your dog outside until you've gathered all your supplies. While your dog is outside, check their eyes, mouth, and skin for irritation. If your dog is experiencing irritation, you can quickly spray them off with a hose or flush their face with water.4 

Remove The Oil From Your Dog's Coat

Once you've determined your dog isn't experiencing any serious side effects, you should aim to remove the oil from their skin and coat.5 Skunk spray can cause an allergic reaction in dogs, so removing it as quickly as possible is key to keeping your dog comfortable. Unfortunately, removing the oil is more easily said than done. 

You can either give your dog a bath inside or outside, depending on the time of day and weather. Unfortunately, if you've ever had a dog sprayed by a skunk, you know removing the oil is difficult, and adding water can make the smell worse. You can use some de-skunking products available at your local pet store or make your own shampoo at home. Of course, you should first give your dog a thorough rinse to help remove the oils. Unfortunately, since the oils bind to the skin and coat, your dog will still likely smell like skunk. 

Neutralize The Odor

Next, it's time to neutralize the odor as best you can. There are many pet-safe commercial odor neutralizers available designed specifically for dogs that have been sprayed by a skunk. If you need recommendations, you can consult your vet or have someone run to the pet store immediately to find something to use. Unfortunately, many skunk encounters occur at night when vets are not available and stores are closed, so you may need to make your own odor-neutralizer if you can't go buy one. 

Since the oils are the cause of the smell, you'll need to find a way to break down the oils and wash them off your pet's skin. A combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish detergent has been proven effective in some cases. Dish detergent is known for its ability to remove oils, while baking soda can help break down the oils.4 

When washing your dog, keep the homemade solution away from their eyes because they can cause irritation.  

Wash And Dry Your Dog

After your dog has received their first bath with de-skunking ingredients, they should have another bath with dog shampoo to help further remove the smell. Since the oils are broken down, the shampoo will serve to continue to clean them and help them smell better. When your dog is done with their second bath, you can wrap them up in a towel or let them run around outside to dry off. 

Cleanup 

After washing and drying your dog, you may notice that some of the skunk smell is still lingering on your clothes and body. Luckily, laundry detergent works well to remove skunk smell on clothes. You can always wash your clothes multiple times or add baking soda or washer-safe skunk odor remover to your laundry load. Washing your body with grease-cutting dish soap should get rid of any oils or smells, but soaking in a baking soda solution can also help. 

Protecting Your Dog From Skunk Encounters

Skunk encounters are most common during warmer months at around dusk or dawn 

Unfortunately, not all de-skunking treatments are effective. Even after a bath, your dog may still smell like skunk. However, this smell should wear off in a few days, especially if your dog spends more time outside to allow their fur and skin to air out. Since skunk smell is pungent and can irritate your dog's skin, it's always best to prevent skunk encounters in the future. 

Skunks are crepuscular, so they're active at twilight, dawn, and dusk. You can let your dog outside at different times to avoid possible skunk encounters. In addition, you may be able to smell a skunk when they're around, telling you to keep your dog out of the yard or to go a different route on your walk. 

You can also make your yard less appealing to skunks by boarding up small crevices that they could use as a shelter or repairing any breaks in your fence. 

In addition, you can work on recall training with your dog so they come when called. That way, if you notice a skunk in your yard, you can keep your dog away from them. 

What To Do When A Skunk Sprays Your Dog: FAQs

How long does skunk spray odor last?

How long skunk spray odor lasts depends on how fast you take action. If you don't break down the oils quickly, they can stay on your dog for days or weeks. Regular dog shampoo alone doesn't work at breaking down the oils that cause the odor, so you'll need to use a specially formulated or homemade shampoo. 

When is a skunk encounter most likely to happen?

Skunk encounters are more likely at dusk and dawn when skunks are most active. This is why many skunk spray incidents happen at night when vet offices and stores are closed. If your dog is sprayed by a skunk at night, you'll have to remove the oil from their skin using a homemade solution consisting of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap. 

Are there homemade solutions that can get rid of skunk odor?

Yes, there are homemade solutions that can help get rid of skunk odor. Dish soap is effective at breaking down the oils, while peroxide and baking soda can help clean it off your dog's skin. Combining all three has been effective for many pet parents in a pinch. There are also several de-skunking products on the market that are always good to have on hand. Unfortunately, depending on where your dog is sprayed, you may not be able to remove the odor completely. You should never use solutions around your dog's eyes or mouth, so if they've been sprayed in the face, you may have to wait for the oils to break down on their own. 

Close up of dog with eye irritation

Final Notes

Skunk spray odor is unpleasant, and the oils can cause irritation on dogs' skin and in their eyes, mouth, and respiratory system. If your dog is sprayed by a skunk, you must act quickly to break down the oils. In addition, if your dog is sprayed in the face or experiences negative side effects from the spray, you should contact your vet as soon as possible. 

Unfortunately, most skunk encounters happen at night when most vet offices are closed. When you need a vet after hours, turn to Dutch. Dutch vets are available 24/7 to answer your questions and ensure your pet is healthy after being sprayed by a vet. Try Dutch today. 

References

  1. "What Happens If a Skunk Sprays Me?" Poison Control, https://www.poison.org/articles/what-happens-if-a-skunk-sprays-me-213.

  2. "Skunk Spray Toxicosis: An Odiferous Tale." DVM 360, https://www.dvm360.com/view/skunk-spray-toxicosis-odiferous-tale.

  3. "Heinz Body Hemolytic Anemia: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment." WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-heinz-body-anemia.

  4. "What to Do When a Skunk Sprays Your Dog." The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/de-skunking-your-dog.

  5. Reisen, Jan. "Dog Sprayed by Skunk, Now What?" American Kennel Club, 31 Mar. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/what-to-do-when-your-dog-gets-sprayed-by-a-skunk/.