The stench! I knew what happened as soon as I turned into my driveway. The foul odor made me gag before I even opened the car door.
“Not another skunk,” I moaned, seeing my retriever, Bravo, happily wagging his tail inside his kennel as he watched me approach. But the scent was a giveaway. There had been another visitor.
The smelly situation was becoming predictable. I leave town for a night. Our neighbor slides Bravo’s kibble and water inside his kennel. While Bravo snoozes inside his doghouse, a skunk sneaks under the fence after dark and starts eating the leftovers. Bravo nails the skunk, but not before the little stinker lifts its tail.
Many dog owners face this situation.
The Secret of the Scent
A skunk stores its pungent spray, its main method of defense, in two nipple-shaped glands along its anus, which is why it lifts its tail to do its stinky deed.
If the skunk sees the intruder, it can direct the spray with pinpoint accuracy. Otherwise, it sends out a nasty 10-foot cloud, hoping the purported predator runs into it.
Soon, the stink wafts much further than that, up to a couple of miles, which you’ve probably noticed while driving your car. When a skunk sprays near a highway or becomes roadkill, squishing out its offensive spray, you might see it then smell it, or vice versa, depending on the wind direction.
The spray itself is an oily liquid made up of sulfurous compounds called thiols. A skunk can spray thiols from birth, but unless it’s surprised, it usually gives a warning, such as stamping its feet, hissing or flicking its tail, because it’s only got one big shot.
After spraying, a skunk needs to recharge for a few days before it squirts again, so any spray has to count.
One creature immune to a skunk’s blast is the great horned owl, which has an underdeveloped sense of smell and preys on skunks from above rather than from behind.
Dogs are not immune to the scent but sometimes it can seem that way. Bravo can somehow defend his food despite a direct hit every time.
Forget the Tomato Juice
On the bright side, skunk spray won’t cause any lasting damage to a dog, though a close hit to its face can cause temporary blindness. However, nothing stinks like a pet that has found the back end of a skunk. The trick to getting rid of the sickening stench is neutralizing the oily thiols.
Throwing your dog in the closest pond makes it worse for the same reason that the odor can come back months later when your dog gets wet. Thiols are a sulfur-based compound which reactivate with water.
It’s folklore that washing your canine with tomato juice gets rid of pungent pong. It doesn’t. The carotenoids and lycopene in the juice, which combine with sulfur, and in theory, neutralize skunk smell, aren’t present is great enough quantities to break down the thiols.
At best, you temporarily mask the icky odor with something that sniffs of rotten eggs garnished with tomatoes.
Beer and oatmeal, two other common home remedies, don’t cut it either, because the only way to neutralize the thiols is to chemically change them.
Here’s a recipe that works:
1 qt. 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ c. Baking soda
1 t. Dish detergent
Mix all three ingredients together then, wearing rubber gloves, shampoo the mixture into your pet’s fur and around its claws. Let it sit for only five minutes. Rinse your dog with tap water. The hydrogen peroxide and baking soda get rid of the smell. The dish detergent removes the oil. Note: The mixture won’t keep, so make it only when you need it. Afterward, shampoo your dog normally so it smells like its old self again.
If your dog gets sprayed in the eyes, rinse its eyes with distilled water, or ask your veterinarian for dog-friendly eye wash.
A skunk’s offensive odor is technically called musk. Other animals, including weasels, muskrats, polecats and badgers, spray musk for self-defense and to mark territory, but those smells are tame compared to a skunk’s.
Or maybe you’re the lucky one in a thousand whose nose doesn’t pick up musk. I’m not, but I no longer fear returning home to find my dog doused in it again. Because now, I take him with me. If he happens to meet another little stinker, I know what to do.