Skunks and Their Spray
Are skunks dangerous to my dog?
Skunks are mammals that are native to North and South America. They vary in size according to the species and have a standard fur color of black and white. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of skunks is that they are born with prominent white stripes on their fur. The 12 different species of skunk belong to the family Mephitidae, which means “stink.”
Skunks are extremely adaptable. They will eat nearly anything, which makes it easy for them to thrive in a variety of environments. They prefer areas where two different kinds of habitats meet, like a beach and a field, or a marsh and a forest. This gives them a wider range of food choices.
Given the choice, skunks prefer to eat insects. This makes them useful in controlling nuisance insect populations like bees, wasps, hornets and stinkbugs. They can also thrive on trash, pet food and grubs found on lawns. This has led to a significant increase in the need for skunk-control services.
Because skunks are one of the top carriers of rabies in the United States, most states have strict laws about skunk-control practices. Many states restrict owning skunks as pets, and in many states it is illegal to release a captured skunk back into the wild. Rabies is transmitted only through saliva when the victim is bitten by an affected animal.
Most carnivorous mammals have anal glands for the purpose of secreting a potent, oily substance. These scent glands have evolved to fulfill different purposes in different mammals. For example, wolverines use theirs to mark their territory, and minks use theirs as a repellant. Skunks are the only animal who use theirs as a defense mechanism. Why dogs still have their anal glands is an unsolved mystery.
Skunk spray is not toxic to humans or animals. It does not transmit any diseases and will not burn the skin. The spray, however, has an extreme smell. It would have to, considering the spray is a defense mechanism capable of warding off predators as large as a bear or wolf.
The odor is bad enough to trigger nausea and even vomiting. If the liquid happens to get into the eyes, it can cause significant irritation and temporary blindness. In this situation, you should seek medical attention to prevent any damage to the eyes.
How do skunks spray?
Skunks have two scent glands on each side of the anus, in a similar location to a dog’s anal glands. The scent glands produce and store the powerful liquid that skunks spray on potential threats or predators. Each gland is connected to an external squirting duct found beneath the tail on each side of its anus.
There are muscles located next to the spray glands. These anal muscles help skunks eject the stored spray and release it. The anal scent glands contain about four tablespoons of spray. Skunks have enough spray to discharge up to six times.
A skunk is capable of shooting spray with high accuracy to targets as far away as three meters (almost 10 feet). They are extremely good at aiming and rarely miss their intended victim. If the skunk knows exactly where the predator is, it will project a stream directly at its enemy’s face. However, if the skunk is unsure of what is pursuing it, it will spray a fine mist so that the attacker must run through a cloud of the acrid liquid.
It can take 10 days before a skunk can produce more spray. When they deplete the stored spray in the scent glands, skunks are left vulnerable to predators. The spray is their only proactive defense mechanism, and skunks have no other way to protect themselves.
Because of this, the spray is something skunks use only when they must. They will try to discharge small amounts at a time to preserve as much spray as possible.
The skunk’s distinct black and white markings are another form of self-defense. Animals who have been sprayed remember the experience and see the stripes as a caution sign. Because of this, skunks are used to being left alone and have few natural enemies.
When threatened, a skunk’s first instinct is to run away or give other warnings, including hissing. If this doesn’t work, it will turn around to face its enemy, raise its tail as a warning and stomp its front feet. Some species of skunk have been seen to stand on their front feet and raise their entire body into a handstand as a warning signal. Only then, if these measures are not effective, will the skunk use its spray.
What is skunk spray?
The spray of a skunk is a chemical liquid that contains organic compounds referred to as thiols. These compounds are the reason for the foul odor of the spray.
Thiols are chemical compounds consisting of chains of carbon, hydrogen and sulfur. They are volatile, which means they disperse easily in the air.
When the spray from a skunk comes in contact with water, the compounds are rearranged into a potent configuration. When you or your dog get sprayed by a skunk and bathe in water, the smell only worsens. The more you try to wash off the spray, the smellier it becomes.
What is the best way to remove skunk spray from my dog?
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to remove skunk odor is not tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix. There are good over-the-counter products, such as Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, but if you don’t have these on hand, you can mix up an effective concoction with common household products.
Before attempting to remove the skunk spray, it is important to check your dog for injuries. An encounter with a skunk may result in scratches or bite wounds. Put on some rubber or latex gloves and carefully examine your dog. Remember that skunks can carry rabies, so if you find any wounds, take your dog to the veterinarian for treatment and a rabies booster.
Try to work outside and avoid bringing your dog and the skunk smell inside. If your dog’s eyes are red or irritated, immediately flush them with cool water. Mix together one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at any pharmacy), a quarter cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid detergent such as Dawn or Ivory Snow. If you don’t have peroxide, baking soda and dish soap, you can use vinegar diluted with water.
There is no need to soak your dog with water prior to treatment. Work this foaming mixture into his coat as soon as possible after he has been sprayed. Leave the paste in place for up to five minutes. If you leave it on longer than five minutes, the peroxide may cause lightening of your dog’s fur.
Rinse the mixture out thoroughly and wash your dog with regular pet shampoo. If necessary, repeat the wash with fresh batches of the mixture as needed until the odor is gone. Dispose of any leftover mixture. Do not try to keep it for future use, especially in a sealed bottle, as it will explode. Thoroughly towel-dry your dog and keep him warm for the next couple hours to avoid him getting chilled.
Laundry detergent and a half cup of baking soda per load will remove the skunk smell from your clothes. If you have gotten any of the skunk spray on your skin or hair, wash your hair with a shampoo designed for oily hair. Pour up to four cups of baking soda into a warm bath and soak yourself for up to 20 minutes. Shower to rinse the baking soda from your skin.
How can my dog and I avoid getting sprayed by a skunk?
If you or your dog encounter a skunk, the best course of action is to leave the skunk alone. Do not approach or make any sudden movements. Skunks will only spray when they feel threatened or surprised. Skunks do not want to be bothered, so try to leave them alone.