how to de-skunk your dog

a dog running towards a skunk with its tail raised

Skunks live all over the place and if your dog gets curious about one, they may end up with a face full of stink. If your pooch gets sprayed, there are ways you can rid them of the scent without having to buy up every can of tomato juice in the area.

Dog running toward skunk
A dog about to have a bad day

The myth about tomato juice

I grew up in a very rural area of Northern Ontario and it was common knowledge back then to use tomato juice for anyone/anything who was unfortunate enough to get ‘skunked’. These types of remedies and knowledge are handed down from whatever knowledge people had at the time so it’s not surprising that someone thought the acidic nature of tomato juice might work.

The truth is…it doesn’t! It really depends on how bad or how concentrated the ‘skunked’ area is but tomato juice doesn’t do anything except mask the odour. The reality is that the general rinsing of the area probably did as much good as using tomato juice or paste without costing anything.

The odour from skunk spray comes from its chemical composition and how it reacts on contact and is why it lingers around for so long.

QUMY dog black dog shoes with white bands
QUMY Dog Shoes

Anyone who’s had success with the tomato juice remedy probably has also had experience with the smell coming back after a day or two. This again has to do with the chemical components of what makes the smell so bad in the first place.

Science behind the stink

After centuries of people being affected, some research into the chemical composition was finally done in 1999. Read the study here and here and here.

The defensive and extremely pungent smell skunks use comes from 2 glands beside their anus and is only used defensively. The spray itself is a compound of organosulfers, containing sulfer and hydrogen, called thiols. Thiols are also in garlic and onions and give them their pungent aromas. Humans are particularly sensitive to smelling thiols making skunk spray particularly pungent to us.

Skunk spray is a liquid produced by the animal’s anal glands containing several types of volatile chemical compounds. The primary stinky compounds are thiols and thioacetates, both rich in sulfur—the same element that makes rotten eggs gag-inducing. Sulfur atoms in thiols and thioacetates also have a lot of stability in the way they bond to other atoms, which is part of the reason the smell is hard to get rid of. 

The odor is also hard to rid as skunks can spray so precisely. Using two muscular and independently-rotating nozzles, a skunk can spray a direct stream of oily, sulfurous liquid from its rear at a nearby predator, or choose to release a mist for a general or unpredictable threat. However, skunks generally conserve their spray, which may take more than a week to replenish. They also seem to dislike the stench as well, as adults will not spray each other for anything except fights between males during mating season. They typically posture and fight for things like territory disputes.

The Do’s of de-skunking

  1. ACT FAST – Time is of the essence and acting quickly can minimize the overall effects on you, your house and anything else that the dog gets near.
  2. Skunk shampoo – Use a good quality skunk shampoo if you have one and follow the instructions. Get your dog to a groomer if there’s one open, they usually will make a spot for emergency ‘skunkings’
  3. Repeat and rinse your best friend thoroughly, the shampoo is designed to oxidize the smelly compounds, getting rid of it.
  4. Check your pup – Check their eyes for redness or irritation and rinse them for some relief.

Homemade skunk remedy

  1. 1 quart of 3-% hydrogen peroxide (available at any pharmacy)
  2. 1/4 cup baking soda
  3. 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap

Mix this in an open bucket or container(NOT in any closed container), mixing baking soda and peroxide will create a gas and could cause the container to explode.

Rub this mixture into the fur and leave for a minute – no longer because the peroxide could bleach or discolour the fur.

Rinse VERY well and wash with a regular dog shampoo

The Dont’s of de-skunking

  1. Don’t bring the dog inside – the smell will be on anything the dog touches and will spread to from floor to ceiling if they shake
  2. Don’t get them wet – Adding water to the spray makes it more pungent by changing the composition of the smelly compounds.
  3. Don’t bring them to the vet – A vet won’t be able to do anything other than remove it with a skunk shampoo.
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