What To Do If Your Dog Gets Sprayed By A Skunk

Here's when to rush to the vet, and when a simple shampoo will do.

Dogs are naturally curious. They love making new friends and want to give all creatures large and small a good sniff. Unfortunately, this curiosity can lead to smelly results if your pup happens to come across a skunk while roaming outside.

The first thing pet owners typically think when their dog tracks that familiar odor into the house is, “How do I get the skunk smell off my dog as fast as possible?” However, if your dog has been sprayed by a skunk in close quarters, the unpleasant scent might be the least of your worries, warns Dr. Erika Loftin, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

Skunk musk, when directed at the sensitive areas of a dog’s body, can actually have some pretty serious health consequences. “Skunk spray can be harmful if your dog is sprayed in the eyes or mouth, and you should seek veterinary treatment immediately,” Loftin tells The Dodo. “Skunk spray can damage the eyes and may cause temporary blindness. It can also cause vomiting if ingested. However, if your dog is sprayed anywhere else on the body, it’s not harmful — just smelly.”

When a dog returns from his outdoors adventure smelling worse for wear, owners should first check their dog’s eyes, looking for redness, watering and irritation. If it seems the dog has been sprayed in the face, rinse his eyes with cool water, and head over to your emergency vet for further treatment.

Skunk spray shares the same sulfurous compounds found in rotting flesh and bodily waste, so banishing the smell quickly and completely is the next priority. There are quite a few myths for treating skunk smell, but not all of them pass the sniff test — so what do vets recommend for banishing the odor? Here are a few proven remedies that will have your pup smelling fresh in no time:

De-skunking shampoo

“Skunk spray is essentially an oil, which can be hard to break down and wash off the skin and fur of a dog,” Loftin says.

To best remove skunk spray, Loftin recommends using a product specifically formulated for this purpose. “Some of the old remedies, like tomato juice or vinegar, don’t actually work that well. Your best bet is an over-the-counter skunk odor remover,” Loftin says. “So, if your area is known to have skunks, it might be a good idea to keep a bottle of the remover on hand.”

Dr. Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian at Animal Acupuncture in New York City, agrees that these rinses are usually a surefire way to get rid of the scent safely — as long as pet owners follow instructions, especially when applying the solution to their pup’s face. “You can typically get these items at your local pet supply store or specialty supermarket,” Barrack tells The Dodo. “Follow the bottle's directions and always remember to keep any of these away from your dog's eyes!”

Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dishwashing soap

If you don’t have time to run out to the store, another popular method for neutralizing the odor can be prepared at home using everyday products that you’d find in your kitchen and bathroom. The “magic” mixture is even endorsed by the Humane Society.

“You can use this mixture: one quart of hydrogen peroxide, a quarter-cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap,” Loftin suggests. “Mix this together when you need it (do not store ahead of time) and wash your pet with this solution.”

As with any skunk treatment, dog owners should wear protective gloves in order to avoid getting the odor and chemicals on their hands. It’s important to take precautions and check the strength of the hydrogen peroxide before making the mixture, as anything stronger than 3 percent hydrogen peroxide could be damaging to the dog’s skin.

Once the solution is prepared, carefully apply it to your pup, and let chemistry work its magic! “Do not get the peroxide in your pet’s eyes or let your pet ingest the solution,” Loftin warns. “Rub the solution in, and then rinse thoroughly. If the peroxide is left on their fur too long, it could bleach their coat. Follow that up by washing your dog with regular pet shampoo and rinse thoroughly.” Once your pet is thoroughly rinsed, he should be squeaky clean and ready for a good towel dry.

Tomato juice

In a pinch, pet owners can always turn to the age-old method of rinsing their pup with tomato juice. Unlike the skunk-remover shampoo or the hydrogen peroxide mixture, tomato juice won’t completely neutralize the stink, but it will temporarily masks the skunk musk, making things a bit more pleasant.

“De-skunking a dog can certainly be a tough feat, but an easy, at-home method is tomato juice!” Barrack says. “You can add tomato juice (which you can purchase at your local supermarket) in with your dog's shampoo. Let the shampoo and lather sink in, wash and possibly repeat — depending on the smell.” Of course, tomato juice can also have the unpleasant side effect of turning a light-colored dog’s fur temporarily pink, so keep that in mind before reaching for the bottle of V8.

Never get sprayed again

To protect your dog from further skunk confrontations, a few simple steps can make your property less appealing to those black and white critters.

“Your best bet is to keep skunks off your property by removing temptations,” Loftin explains. “Make sure they do not have access to garbage, pet food or compost. Remove any wood piles or shrub piles that might make a good home for skunks, and block access to open areas under necks or behind sheds.”

Skunks are most active during dawn and dusk, notes Loftin, so it’s best to reduce walks in the woods during those times — unless, of course, you’re looking for a stinky surprise.