Dogs and Skunks – A Complete Guide

We’ve all smelled it at one time or another – Skunk Spray!  And whether we like it or not, our dogs will want to investigate with seemingly no care for personal hygiene.  But dogs and skunks don’t mix well, your dog may just not know it yet.

I’ve done a ton of research to bring you everything you need to help prevent your dog from tangling with a skunk.  And in case they do anyway, I’ve got all the tips and tricks you need to deal with the stinkiest of smells. But remember, dogs and skunks don’t mix well so prevention is your best defense. Read on…

A Little Info About Skunks

I had to share this, it’s so cute.

According to Wikipedia, Skunks, or Polecats as they are referred to in the Southern United States, are a small omnivorous mammal residing in the Americas.  They are about the size of a small dog or large cat, depending on the exact type. And no matter the type dogs, and skunks don’t mix well.  

Here in Southern Ontario, skunks can get upwards of 18-20 lbs.  They can be big enough that I think a cat or small dog would not necessarily have much of a chance.  If you have a dog as I do, a Yorkshire Terrier, then you know what I’m talking about.

Skunks eat whatever they can get into, for the most part.  In the wild, as omnivores, they will eat what they can, depending upon the season.  They have been known to eat birds, eggs, snakes, roots, grubs bugs and more. In cities and suburban areas, skunks often go for garbage and compost bins.

Dogs And Skunk Spray Basics

A stack of books with a notepad and pen sit on top of a desk in this photo.
Learn the basics of skunks and stay informed.

And this is why we are concerned with skunks.  Skunks have two glands, one on either side of their anus, which product the smelly sulfur-based concoction that has made them so incredibly infamous.  Skunks also have the ability to precisely aim their spray for a distance of up to about 10 feet. The saving grace is that skunks are somewhat reluctant to use it.  Somewhat does not constitute an appropriate defensive against the acrid stench so take heed.

Skunks live from Canada to South America and everywhere in between.  So if you live in the US, you are smack dab in the middle of a skunk country.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Skunks are a vital part of the ecosystem.  But if you are a dog owner, then the last thing you want is a skunk on your property.  I think it’s prudent to discuss first how to avoid tangling with skunks. I’ll get back to their spray after.  Follow these simple rules to help avoid skunks and a potential tangle with your dog.

Skunks and dogs don't mix and this picture shows a skunk showing it may be ready to spray.
Don’t let their cuteness deceive you.

5 Ways To Keep Skunks Away

A – Skunk Preventive Tip #1

Share light friends!  No, I’m not trying to be evangelistic.  I’m trying to say that skunks are nocturnal.  That means they only come out at night and sleep during the day.  They tend to shy away from bright light. Throw a motion light over your garbage cans.  It can be very blinding to a skunk who is approaching, like walking toward bright lights pointed right at you.  The skunk’s eyes are adjusted and evolved for sight in the dark so bright lights are irritating to them.

B – Skunk Preventive Tip #2

Keep your garbage locked up and the smell down.  Try sprinkling the bin with baking soda to help absorb some of the smell.  Remember skunks are omnivores, they would love to eat your leftovers, even if they were tossed out.

CSkunk Preventive Tip #3

Use pepper sprays.  You can find a pepper-based spray used to deter squirrels.  This will also work to deter skunks. Simply spray on tree trunks, your garbage cans and other areas where a skunk is not wanted.  You can spray some on the back of your dog house too. I say the back because you don’t want to agitate your dog’s nose, just the skunk.  Also, keep in mind you should NOT try to spray a skunk directly with pepper spray or anything else. That’s a good way to get yourself sprayed.

D – Skunk Preventive Tip #4

Spray predator urine.  Skunks, like most mammals, have a good solid fear of death.  And if they can avoid getting chomped on by a larger animal, they will try to do so.  With that in mind, you can use predator urine to dissuade them. I’ve read that dog urine works.  I don’t agree. I have a dog and have watched a skunk barrel on through the property, right past where my dog likes to pee.  But coyote urine, which you can get from various sources like outdoor stores, and online, works very well to keep skunks moving along. It helps because dogs and skunks just don’t mix so prevention is the best defense.

E – Skunk Preventive Tip #5

Keep hiding places covered.  Skunks like to have a nice area like under your deck for making a home.  Keep these kinds of hollows and crawl spaces solidly blocked off. This will also prevent other creatures, like raccoons, from making their home there as well.  But nothing is worse than going out on your deck on a nice Saturday morning to find a family of skunks living right beneath your deck.

Dogs and Skunks Partial Myth # 1, (Well Sort Of)

I’ve read online to use ammonia in place of pepper spray.  I even read one article that said to soak rags and put them under your deck.  Ammonia is a strong skunk deterrent, true. The only issue I have with using ammonia is that, well, it smells.  Your yard will smell like a cat peed all over it. You might deter the skunk, but you’ll deter yourself in the process.

Dogs And Skunks: How To Remove Skunk Spray

So you’ve done everything to prevent skunks.  And one still wanders by and your dog gets a blast.  Well, it happens and more of you than not realize this is all too true.  So what the heck do you do if your dog is blasted by skunk spray? It’s important for us to first understand the chemistry basics of skunk spray.  That way we can most effectively neutralize this stuff. Let’s dive in.

Removing Skunk Smell: Skunk Spray Chemistry

The spray from a skunk comes from two glands on either side of the skunk’s anus.  Yeah, you read that right. The glands produce the foul-smelling concoction which is comprised of some interesting chemicals and compounds.  But you’re not reading this to become a chemist, are you? I thought not. To sum up, there’s a molecule they call a Thiol which we need to oxidize in order to neutralize the stench. And we need a mixture of hydrogen peroxide with sodium bicarbonate to do it.  But I’ll get into that.

Source:  History of Skunk Spray Research.  “The History of Skunk Defensive Secretion Research,” William F. Wood, The Chemical Educator, 4, 44-50 (1999).  (DOI 10.1007/s00897990286a1999.)]

Myth Destroyed:  Tomato juice does NOT work in neutralizing skunk spray. 

A skunk moving through an area a dog could be watching is shown in this photo.
How to get rid of skunk?

Skunk Spray Neutralizing (Dogs and Skunks Don’t Mix)

According to Humbolt State University – Department of Chemistry, skunk spray can be neutralized using the following recipe:

For Cleaning Your Pet: 

(May Change Your Pet’s Hair Color)

Mix the following ingredients:

1 quart (0.95 liters) of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide 

¼ cup (60 mL) of baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate

1 teaspoon of liquid detergent (I recommend pet-friendly products like dog shampoo)

Instructions:  Bathe your pet in the above solution, be cautious not to get it in the dog’s eyes.  Let sit on the pet for about 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Repeat as needed.

TipDo this OUTSIDE.  The skunk smell is likely not what you want in your house.

CAUTION: Do not store this mixture, it gives off a gas (Oxygen) which could cause the container to explode, and will not ‘keep’ if stored.  It must be used right after mixing for best results. Keep out of your pet’s eyes. However, if you get in your pet’s eyes, immediately flush with water.

For Cleaning Wood and Other Surfaces:

Bleach at 1 cup per gallon (3.78 L) water.  

CAUTION: DO NOT USE ON PETS!  Bleach is ONLY to be used on non-living things like your deck or something like that.  Also, it may discolor wood, etc so use it on a test patch first.

Main Image by Vicki Roberts from Pixabay

A common skunk found in North America wanders on a trail in this photo.
Watch out for these stinkers!

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