Help! What To Do If Your Dog Is Sprayed By A Skunk

Try this DIY solution that doesn’t require tomato juice (whew).

Nothing strikes fear into a dog parent like the possibility of their dog getting sprayed by a skunk. Myself included.

I routinely see skunks during the warmer months in the park across the street from my apartment building in New York City (if this seems odd, I agree with you). And my dog, who couldn’t care less about squirrels, birds and, in most cases, other dogs, is simply mesmerized by them. Every time we see a skunk, which is more often than I like, he pulls and tugs us closer, desperate to meet up close and personal.

Since I feel my dog’s days of remaining skunk spray-free are narrowing, I want to prepare for the inevitable. While I’ve always heard bathing your dog in tomato juice will rid him of a skunk’s spray, apparently that’s an unreliable old wives’ tale (whew). So, what actually does work?

We spoke with Dr. Krista Williams and Dr. Cheryl Yuill, registered veterinarians with VCA Animal Hospitals, Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a registered veterinarian with SpiritDog Training, and Dr. Megan Conrad, a registered veterinarian with Hello Ralphie, to find out what to do if your dog gets sprayed by a skunk.

First rule of thumb? Hold your nose.

How to get skunk smell off your dog

There are simple instructions for getting the skunk smell off your dog, but “being prepared ahead of time is the most important step of all,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo.

  1. Keep your dog outside if possible. The smell from the skunk will rub off onto anything your dog comes into contact with and more than likely linger in your house for some time.
  2. Put on rubber gloves and grab some towels.
  3. Water will actually enhance the skunk smell, and the oily substance isn’t easily washed off by normal shampoos. The best way to de-skunk your dog is to use a dedicated skunk dog shampoo (but if you don’t have any, you can make your own at home). To make your own skunk dog shampoo: In a plastic bowl, using plastic utensils, mix 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and one-third cup of baking soda.
  4. Before you apply the shampoo, check your dog’s eyes to see if they’re irritated. If they are, gently rinse them with cool, fresh water.
  5. Shampoo your dog outside and away from anything that may be affected by the smell, like patio furniture. Be thorough, and work the solution into the fur coat. It’s essential to ensure the shampoo doesn’t go into your dog’s eyes.
  6. Leave the solution on for five minutes before washing off.
  7. Rinse your dog gently with warm water and check for the smell.
  8. You will likely need to repeat the shampoo process several times, as the smell will linger.

Please note the homemade solution comes with a few disclaimers, since hydrogen peroxide can be a harmful substance for dogs. “If your dog ingests any of this mixture, it could make him more nauseous and cause serious damage to digestive tissues,” Dr. Conrad told The Dodo. “It can also be harmful to your dog’s ear canals and eyes.” The most important step with this solution is to keep the homemade shampoo out of your dog’s eyes, ears and mouth.

In a joint paper about dogs and skunks written for VCA Animal Hospitals, Dr. Williams and Dr. Yuill warn, “You need to be aware that the peroxide may bleach your dog's fur, and this is especially noticeable if your dog is black or dark brown. Also, the peroxide can bleach any material it may come in contact with (such as your clothes or furniture).”

If a skunk sprays your dog directly in the face

If your dog gets a close-up spray to the face, you may have bigger problems than just a bad smell.

“Watch your pet carefully,” Dr. Wigfall said. “In some cases they can develop issues with their red blood cells that cause Heinz body anemia. Your dog may become lethargic, weak, and their gum color may turn a chocolate brown color instead of a nice healthy pink. In this scenario, emergency treatment is needed, so contact your veterinarian right away.”

The best way to avoid your dog being sprayed by a skunk in the first place

Although skunks don’t hibernate, they’re generally more active during the summer months. And because they’re nocturnal, you’re more likely to see a skunk in the early morning and late evening. If walking your dog on a leash, keep a safe distance, as skunks can spray up to 20 feet away (and if your dog is still pulling on his leash, I’ve found that a no-pull harness helps a great deal).

“Avoiding skunks is important when you have a dog, and not just because of their smelly spray,” Dr. Conrad said. “Skunks can be a major carrier of rabies. Try to keep walks to daylight hours and away from natural areas if you do happen to walk them in the dark. A full privacy fence that is at least 3 feet high is a good way to keep skunks out of your yard.”

All right, skunks, you’ve been warned. But, if you and your dog are faced with a smelly situation, at least now you’re prepared with what you need to know if your dog gets sprayed by a skunk. Good luck out there!

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