Skunks: frequent questions


Answers to questions we frequently get about skunks.

How to remove skunk odor
Oh, the stench! It’s unforgettable, isn’t it? That distinctive musk smell comes from a mixture of noxious sulfur-containing chemicals (methyl and butyl thiols) emitted from a skunk’s anal glands. Sulfurs not only smell bad, but they linger — so well, in fact, they’re added to natural gas, which is odorless, so we can smell a gas leak in our homes. They’re also what we smell on the tip of a burned match or when Old Faithful geyser erupts.

Sulfurs are hard to neutralize. You’ll have to bathe your dog, maybe more than once. Plain old soap and water won’t work. Dog shampoo won’t work. Scented shampoos won’t work. It’s an unpleasant, fruitless task if you don’t know what to do.

You’ve probably heard of tomato juice recipes for dealing with skunk musk, but they don’t work, so don’t waste time and energy trying them out. Some products available at hardware and pet supply stores may work fairly well. One such is Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, which was used by the owners of “Bacon,” the dog you see in the photo.

We believe — from personal experience — that the home recipe below works better than anything else. Credit Paul Krebaum, a chemist, with creating this solution, which was first published back in 1993.

But first, before you do anything else — check your pet’s eyes. Skunk musk causes intense eye pain and is capable of causing blindness. If your pet’s eyes are tearing and red, or it’s having trouble opening them, gently flush them for several minutes with lots and lots of eyewash. If none is on hand, use tepid water. Even with that, his eyes may be sensitive and swollen for a day or two.

Skunk odor-remover recipe
Mix the following together in a plastic bucket or container with a wide mouth (the mixture will create pressure in a closed container, causing it to burst). Mix well and expect it to fizz like crazy.

•  1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (found in any drugstore)
•  1/4 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, found in any grocery store)
•  1 to 2 teaspoons liquid dish soap (Dawn or Palmolive work well, but any similar soap will do)

 For large pets add 1 quart of tepid tap water to allow for complete coverage.

Use the mixture immediately. The solution will neutralize the chemicals in every hair it touches, so eliminating the odor is directly related to how well you wash your pet. Work the solution deeply into the hair. Leave on for 5 minutes or until the odor is gone. In heavily oiled areas you may need to rinse and repeat.

Don’t get the mixture in your pet’s eyes or mouth. If you must clean his face, put the solution on a cloth and carefully wipe around the eyes and mouth.

Don’t store leftover solution. Not only does it begin to lose its effectiveness right away, but it may build up pressure and explode your container. Never use bleach on your pet or mix any other products into this formula.

This formula works for people and clothing, too – which you may need after attending to your pet!

Can skunks get rabies?
Skunks can catch rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal. It’s often assumed a skunk seen out in daytime is rabid, but don’t jump to this conclusion too quickly. Although skunks are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk, they sometimes go out in the daytime to forage. Also, skunk babies will play outside their den during the day.

A skunk with rabies displays bizarre behavior: acting too tame or too aggressive, unsteady on its feet, confused, drooling, circling, mutilating itself, screeching, paralyzed. If you think a skunk is rabid, stay clear of it and call Animal Control. If you’re bitten or scratched, even by a skunk that seems healthy, see your medical provider immediately for treatment.

Orphaned skunk
A baby skunk doesn’t need to be rescued if it would take two hands to pick him up; he’s old enough to be on his own. As with other animals, watch the baby for a while to make sure it truly is an orphan; it might just be playing outside his den. Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for help.

If you must do the rescue yourself in order to save a baby from imminent danger, here’s what to do: Wear gloves, a frightened skunk may bite. Approach him very slowly, making all your movements deliberate, with no sudden, jerky motions. Speak to him in a soft voice as you approach. Skunks have poor vision; your voice will help keep him calm. To startle him is to invite, shall we say, an odor management problem. Even very young skunks can spray (from glands under their tail), so be sure to remain facing him as you very slowly and gently place a towel or blanket over it, then pick it up.

Put him inside a secure box with air holes. Line the bottom with paper towels or a soft cloth to snuggle in. Keep the baby warm with a heating pad set on low, placed under half of the box (if it gets too warm, it can escape to the other half), and keep him in a dark place until you can get him to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Do skunks always spray?
Skunks don’t spray unless they have to. Their musk is precious to them — it’s their only defense and it takes a day or more for their body to produce a new supply if they use it up. They’ll spray when taken by surprise and, otherwise, spray only if they believe they’re under attack. And, only then after giving you a warning, if possible. They’ll hiss, stamp their feet, pretend-lunge toward you. They really just want you to back off. If one turns his backside to you, it’s time to run! Avoid confrontations by carrying a flashlight when stepping into unlighted areas of your yard at night. When they can see and hear you coming, they’ll move away. Or, you can see them and take a detour.  

Encountering a skunk
They spray if startled and if they think they’re under attack. If given a chance, they’ll warn you, so just slowly, quietly back away. They’ll soon go on their way.

Is it OK to feed skunks?
Skunks are cute to watch from afar, but a regular source of food might just convince them to nest nearby. They carry a discernible odor even when they haven’t sprayed. Imagine the odor of a mother and several babies living under your porch! (Actually, no wildlife should be fed, with the exception of squirrels and birds.)

Learn all about the Striped Skunk

*Top photo: “Moose,” the dog, was sprayed by a skunk. (OakleyOriginals / Flickr; cc by 2.0