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Can a skunk blind a cat?

Can a skunk blind a cat?

Most people have smelled a skunk, but haven’t seen one. Skunk watching is fun, but keep your distance! When threatened, they spray a foul-smelling musk from their rear end.

The Striped Skunk (right), Eastern Spotted Skunk, Western Spotted Skunk, Hognose Skunk, and Hooded Skunk are all found in North America. Skunks are sometimes called civet cats and polecats.

All skunks are boldly colored. This is an an advertisement to their enemies that they should not be bothered. They use their bad smell to mark their territory and to repel danger.

Characteristics: The bright black and white color is common to all skunks. Most animals use color for camouflage, but skunks advertise their presence to ward off enemies.

Most skunks have a cat-size body and two full-body stripes that begin at the base of the neck.

Striped Skunk

Skunks are primarily nocturnal. They are active at night. They are usually solitary. They live alone except mothers and babies. Skunks can be active year-round.

Food: Skunks are true omnivorous mammals. They eat at night and will consume insects, rodents, frogs, crayfish, bird eggs and nestlings, plus fruit, berries, and other plants. Skunks will eat nearly anything they can find or catch.

Skunks do not store food, but they will raid the food of others such as weasels.

Habitat: Skunks adapt to many habitats. They live in open, scrub, wooded, agricultural, and developed areas. Hooded and Hognose Skunks are usually found in brushy or rocky land areas. The Western Spotted Skunk can live in dry areas.

They will den near water in woodlands, brush, open prairie, and among boulders and rock crevices. Skunks can dig their own burrows. They often live in the homes abandoned by other animals. In urban areas, they will also nest in houses, walls, basements, culverts, and beneath buildings.

Reproduction: Most skunks mate in late winter or early spring. Gestation time averages around sixty to seventy-five days. Baby skunks are born in May or June. The litters are usually four to seven naked, blind kits. By three weeks, their eyes are open. The young skunks stay in the burrow for about six weeks. Then, they learn to hunt from their mother during the summer.

Locomotion: Skunks seldom hurry. They walk slowly. They don’t usually worry about predators.

Den Habits: Male skunks tend to be solitary. Several females may den together during winter. Mothers line their dens with grass and leaves for comfort.

Range: Skunks are found throughout most of the ‘lower 48’ states.

Self-defense: Skunks have two scent glands near the base of their tails. Each one can spray fine yellow droplets 15 feet or more. Besides the odor, it can cause temporary blindness and nausea. Even skunks dislike the smell.

Predators: Some predators can carry off a young skunk before a mother can spray. Great Horned Owls strike from above and without warning. Other predators include coyotes and dogs.

The main threat to skunks are humans. Many skunks are run over by cars. At one time, Striped Skunks were hunted for their fur.

More Information

  • Go to the In Depth Page
  • Go to the WebQuest Page

Note: All photographs were taken with a digital camera in Courthouse Wash, Arches National Park, Utah.
Developed by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 05/02.

How to Remove Skunk Scent (And No, It’s Not Tomato Juice)

Did your pet have a run-in with a skunk? Here’s a three-ingredient recipe that actually works to remove the stench. No tomato juice required.

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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.

Published on June 21, 2022

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