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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on March 6, 2018
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It’s hard to believe but spring is just around the corner, and that means a lot of things. New flowers blooming, birds showing back up in the neighborhood, and little critters coming out of the woodwork to shake off their winter blues. That means there’s a big chance that your dog is going to run into a few of those critters. When I was a kid, my dog Jake would spend every spring chasing rabbits and squirrels out of the yard, and every year, he would inevitably mistake a skunk for a fun bunny to chase. Which meant that every year, he got himself a nice tomato juice bath.
One thing I learned from those days was that tomato juice doesn’t really do much for skunk smell. In fact, there’s not much out there beyond time that really does get rid of the smell. But there are some things that you can do to help lessen the effect. Additionally, there are other things you may need to do for your dog if they are sprayed by a skunk. Here are 13 things I’ve found over the years that help you handle a skunk-sprayed dog right away.
1. Use the Peroxide and Baking Soda Mix
Despite all the old wives’ tales about using tomato juice, soda, or mouthwash to get rid of skunk smell, one of the only homemade remedies that I’ve seen that has any real impact is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish washing soap (like Dawn). The mixture should be about one quart of peroxide 3% to one quarter cup baking soda, with about two teaspoons of the soap, mixed with a quart of water. You can make a smaller amount if your dog is tiny, just keep the ratio of peroxide and water the same. Lather your dog up and scrub, scrub, scrub.
2. Check Your Dog’s Eyes
Make sure you check your dog’s eyes after they get sprayed by a skunk. If they get the skunk spray in their eyes, it can cause major irritation. You may need to rinse their eyes, either with cool water or with an eye rinse product to help reduce the irritation. Don’t use anything other than water or an eye-appropriate cleanser. If your dog’s eyes swell up or continue to look red and irritated for many days, call your vet. Your dog could be having an allergic reaction that needs medical attention.
Skunks commonly carry rabies, worms, and other viruses and bacteria, so be sure you check your dog for bites or scratches if they’ve been sprayed. If you see any wounds, first put on some gloves and clean away the blood. If the blood is coming from a wound, you need to take your dog to the vet right away. Be sure you protect your skin from the blood and your dog’s saliva until you are positive they are healthy. If your dog hasn’t been scratched or bitten, watch them for the following weeks for signs of worms or any other illness, which they could get from biting the skunk themselves.
4. Throw Away Your Dog’s Collar
It is very likely that your dog’s collar will be in the line of fire if your dog gets sprayed. It is nearly impossible to get skunk smell out of collars, so it’s best to just toss it. Leather and nylon collars are especially susceptible because they are porous surfaces that soak up odor. Get a new collar, such as a non-porous waterproof collar that is made to repel odors. You may also want to toss out their bedding, your towels, or anything that they sat or laid on while you were preparing their bath. Be sure that you don’t put the new collar on your dog until they no longer smell bad. In the meantime, keep your dog in an enclosed area or on a leash, and be sure you keep an eye on them to prevent them from getting loose without an ID.
5. Spray Surfaces and Wash Laundry with White Vinegar
If you get the smell on your clothes, towels, or on any surfaces, like the bathtub, use white vinegar when you clean and do laundry. If you act quickly, you can usually get the secondary smell off these items with the power of white vinegar. This can be put into a spray bottle to use for cleaning counters, bathtubs, and the floor. For your laundry, you can simply put some vinegar in with the soap. If your clothes or towels are absolutely saturated in the scent, you may want to just toss them rather than risk getting the scent in your washing machine where it could get on other clothes.
6. Use Cinnamon Potpourri or Boil Cinnamon Sticks
To get the smell out of the air, nothing is better than cinnamon. Cinnamon oil is a very strong smell, and has properties that soak up other scents in the air. You can use cinnamon-scented candles, cinnamon oil in a diffuser, cinnamon potpourri, or just boil a pot of water with cinnamon sticks. This will make your house smell a bit nicer and will make you feel better if nothing else.
7. Consider Calling Your Insurance for Professional Cleaning
Some homeowner’s insurance companies actually pay for professional cleaning in the case of skunk spray disasters. It’s a long shot, but you never know. Give your insurance company a call and ask if they cover this service. You may be able to get your carpeting deep cleaned so that you can get rid of any lingering odor. If your insurance doesn’t cover professional cleaning, you may want to consider paying for it yourself. A deep clean of the carpets and the bathroom can help get the secondary scent out of your home, which can help you live more comfortably until the smell wears off your dog for good.
8. Try Store-Bought Skunk Odor Removers
There are some store-bought skunk odor removers that can help. Nothing is fool-proof against the powerful spray of a skunk, but these products can do what the home remedies can’t in many cases. Skunk-off shampoo is one option for bathing your dog, or try a basic skunk odor remover that uses lavender oil to help cover the smell. You’ll have to think ahead and keep these products on hand if you want to be able to tackle the smell when your dog gets sprayed. If you live in an area that has a heavy skunk population, it may be worth the cost of keeping these products on hand.
One way to prevent skunk odor is to prevent skunks from getting in your yard in the first place. Skunks are just like any other animal – they are looking for food. Skunks eat things like fruit that has fallen from trees, birdseed that has been spilled from bird feeders, and random bits of organic material in the trash. So keep your yard clear of fruit and birdseed, and keep your trash bins put away. Also, be sure to check your fences for small openings where skunks can get through.
10. Use Motion Detector Sprinklers
Skunks are pretty easily frightened off, but they aren’t stupid animals either. A scarecrow that never moves will eventually stop frightening them. So, consider investing in motion detector sprinklers that will startle them and frighten them off. If you have a serious problem with skunks in your yard, this could be a good answer. If you live in an area where water is more precious, or you’d rather not install sprinklers, consider a motion-detecting light or alarm, providing it won’t bug your neighbors.
11. Act as Soon as Possible
One of the worst characteristics of skunk odor is that the molecules that make up the spray tend to cling harder the longer they are left on a surface. That means that if you put off cleaning your dog, your clothes, or anywhere your dog was, the smell will just get worse and worse before it gets better. You have to act fast if you want to keep the smell down from the start. If your dog shows up having been sprayed by a skunk as you are running out the door to work or to run errands – consider staying home and dealing with the issue right away if you can. The longer you wait to clean the source (your dog), the harder it will be to get the scent gone for good.
12. Keep Your Dog Contained Until They Are Bathed
The reason that dogs smell so bad when they’ve been sprayed by a skunk is that an actual liquid has been sprayed all over them, and the molecules of that liquid are clinging to their bodies. Wherever your dog goes, those smelly molecules are being deposited on other surfaces. That means your dog will get the smell into your car, your home, their bed, and anywhere else they run around while you gather the bathing supplies. The best thing you can do is to contain your dog until you’ve bathed them. Either put them in their kennel (be sure to take out any bedding first), or keep them in the garage or on a tie out until you can get everything prepared. This will stop the smell from getting all over your house.
13. Head to a Professional Groomer
Finally, if you just can’t get the smell out of your dog’s fur, you may need to head to a pro. Groomers can help you get rid of the skunk odor in many cases. They’ve got skunk odor remover products, and may also recommend shaving the dog’s hair off to help the smell dissipate quicker. They also have equipment that makes it easier for them to get your dog fully bathed, and experience dealing with this situation. They’ll probably have some tricks up their sleeves that you may not know about, and at the very least, you’re spared getting the smell on your clothes. You’ll want to do your best to keep your dog from touching any upholstery in your car on the way to the groomer; consider having them ride in their kennel, or put a few towels down that you don’t mind losing.
Skunk odor is no fun for anyone, just like many other smelly odors that come with owning a dog. If you get on top of it quickly and use these 13 tips, you may not be able to get rid of the smell, but you can at least make it bearable.
For yourself, I would recommend getting some Vicks VapoRub and putting in on your nostrils. It’ll help prevent your eyes from watering while you get your dog bathed and your clothes washed. Otherwise, you’ll just have to give this smell some time to go away.
Over time, my parents learned to keep Jake inside in the early spring more often, and to watch him more closely when he was outside. Skunk season doesn’t last too long in the spring, as most skunks return to their hiding places in the woods after coming out to mate. If you are careful to make your yard less attractive to skunks, and keep an eye on your dog, you may be able to prevent this miserable situation. Remember that if you come across a skunk when hiking or taking a walk around the block, it’s best to back away and let the skunk go about its business. Don’t try to scare it away or stand your ground – it’s just not worth it in the end.
But if you do end up with a smelly surprise, you’ll want to act fast. If you don’t have peroxide and baking soda, or skunk de-odorizing shampoo on hand, get to the store quickly. Nothing else that you’ve heard about really does work to my knowledge, and I’ve tried it all. If you have a skunk smell fix that you swear by, let us know about it in the comments.