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📷 by Bryan Padron

The essentials

  • Skunk spray isn’t typically dangerous, except to your nostrils But don’t take it lightly as it can be harmful.
  • Purchase a skunk smell remover or make one — There are home and commercial remedies to remove the smell of skunk spray.
  • Avoid letting your dog roam in the yard at night — You and your dog can avoid skunks by following a few tips.

Very little is black and white in the world, but one unmistakable exception is the common skunk and its trademark smell. Skunks have such a defining stench, in fact, that it’s the origin of their scientific name, Mephitis mephitis, which translates to “noxious vapor” in Latin.

Being elusive creatures, you may not have seen one in the wild unless you live near a wooded area. But with a scent that can water eyes over a mile away, you’re probably very familiar with the smell.

There’s a good chance your dog is familiar with them as well. Like most small mammals, they make great targets for unsuspecting dogs. If your dog is sprayed, or you suspect they were, follow this guide to get rid of it, better understand skunk spray smell, and most importantly, how to avoid it!

⚠️ If sprayed, don’t put your dog in the bath. Water binds with the chemicals in skunk spray and makes the odor stronger. Keep your dog outside to prevent them from rubbing spray into the furniture, which can be extremely difficult to remove.

Removing skunk spray smell from your dog

Left untreated, the smell from skunk spray can last for days or weeks. Pew! Unfortunately, old school remedies such as tomato juice or oatmeal baths are unlikely to be helpful. They don’t break down the odorous chemicals in skunk spray and only provide temporary “masking” of the smell.

Thankfully, there are commercial solutions, as well as DIY remedies using common household items, to help eliminate the odor.

Step 1. Size up the situation

Before you do any cleaning, first check your dog for injuries. If they’ve been bitten or scratched by the skunk, you need to take them to the vet immediately, as skunks can carry rabies. As mentioned, if skunk spray has reached your dog’s eyes, flush them with eye wash, eye solution, or water to clear the irritant.

Step 2. Wash your dog with a professional skunk smell remover

The best solution is a professional skunk smell remover, which you can buy at pet supply stores or from a vet. Skunk-Off Liquid Soaker permanently eliminates bad skunk odors in minutes. To use, bathe your dog in the shampoo and allow them to dry (if you still notice a smell, wash them twice).

Step 3. If you’re in a bind, make a DIY skunk cleaner

You might not have time to go buy or order a skunk remover shampoo. In order to create an effective cleaner, you need ingredients that will neutralize the thiols in the skunk spray, according to Dr. William Wood of Humboldt State University’s Department of Chemistry, who has extensively studied skunk spray compounds. He provides a safe and simple recipe for skunk spray remover:

  • 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (also found at the drugstore)
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid detergent
  • Large mixing bucket
  • Rubber gloves

👉 This mixture contains hydrogen peroxide, which can lighten the color of your dog’s fur with prolonged exposure. Keep the application limited to 5 minutes at a time and keep the solution out of your dog’s eyes to avoid irritation.

How to apply it to your dog

It’s best to do this outdoors to avoid getting the solution (and the skunk spray smell) everywhere.

  1. Put on your rubber gloves and mix the ingredients in the large bucket.
  2. Apply to your dog’s dry fur. After your skunk spray remover solution has thoroughly seeped into your dog’s fur (after 5 minutes or so), rinse with water.
  3. You may need repeat applications to remove the smell. If you have it handy, use dog shampoo with your final water rinse to help with a lingering odor.
  4. Hand towel your dog to thoroughly dry them off.

⚠️ Note that the solution won’t work if stored. Use it up or discard after use, as it can cause volatile gas build up and explosion.

Because thiols are so hard to completely remove, you may notice a subtle return of the scent when any residuals are reactivated by future baths. Eventually, that too will disappear with time.

And don’t forget to clean off your own clothes. It’s not recommended to use the above solution because the hydrogen peroxide can bleach your clothes. Instead, wash with normal laundry detergent and add a half-cup of baking soda.

👉 If you’re in a bind, you can use vinegar diluted in water. It’s not as effective as the above home remedy, but it may help reduce the smell.

Washing away the skunk spray

What is skunk spray?

Skunks are normally fairly docile creatures, but they spray as a defensive action to protect their young or if they feel they’re in imminent danger. The spray comes from two glands in their anus that can hold up to an ounce of spray each, which is enough to ward off even bears (your dog doesn’t stand a chance).

Skunk spray is an oily organic chemical made up of compounds called thiols that soak into just about anything they come in contact with, including your dog’s skin and fur. Thiols are reinforced by thioacetates, which on their own lend more to odor longevity. However, when they mix with water, they become thiols, they’re noxious counterparts. This is why, despite your intuition, you shouldn’t immediately wash your dog after contact.

Is skunk spray harmful?

Fortunately, skunk spray isn’t typically considered a serious health threat to dogs (your pooch’s dignity notwithstanding) or people because the volume of spray is generally low. However, exceptional cases have arisen with spray causing more severe health issues in dogs, such as Heinz body anemia.

It can also be a general irritant if absorbed in the eyes or other soft membranes, like the nose or mouth. If your dog got a little too close to the skunk and was the recipient of claw swipes or bites, the spray could also irritate these wounds. Take your dog to the vet if you notice any cuts, claw marks, bite wounds, or persistent eye irritation or discharge.

👉 If your dog’s eyes are red or irritated, use eye wash or tear solution to flush their eyes. Water can further irritate the eye and you risk activating thioacetates on nearby fur, making the smell worse.

Is it really skunk spray?

While nothing is quite comparable to OG skunk spray, there are in fact other substances that smell similar enough because of their molecular makeup that they could be confused for skunk spray. Some common examples include:

  • Burning rubber
  • Garlic
  • Gas leaks (thiols are added to odorless gasses to give them a noticeable smell)
  • Marijuana
  • Onion
  • Rotten eggs
  • Sewage
  • Sulfur leaks

If your dog has been rolling around in trash or has been near gases or burning materials, their fur may have picked up the scent. Fortunately, because many of these smells contain the same, or similar, organic compounds as skunk spray and can be removed with the same methods.

How to avoid skunk smell

If you’ve gone through the process of cleaning your pup after skunk spray exposure, you’ll probably never want to go through that experience again. Here are a few tips to avoid skunks, and their spray.

Not-so-close encounters — Whether you encounter a skunk on a hike or in your backyard, it’s unlikely it will spray unless it’s defending its young or thinks it’s seriously threatened. If you see one, stop, slowly step back so you’re at least 15 feet away, and go the other direction.

Watch the time — Skunks are nocturnal animals, so avoid letting your dog roam around in wooded areas after dark. They’re also generally more active in warmer months when they mate and forage for food, becoming more docile come winter to stay warm.

Block entrances — Skunks like to make their dens underground or in rotted logs, but will happily reside under decks and porches or around sheds — anywhere that provides protection from the elements. Fence off or block any small entrances that might seem appealing.

Fight fire with fire — Ironically, skunks don’t like pungent smells either. If you know or suspect you have one living nearby, try putting one of the following solutions nearby to keep them away:

  • Black pepper
  • Chilis
  • Citrus
  • Coffee grounds
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Predator urine (found at local outdoor store)
  • Rotten eggs
  • Vinegar

Armed with these solutions and tips, if your dog comes in smelling like a skunk, you’ll be well equipped to remove the smell and avoid the stink in the future!