Can skunk spray blind a dog?
Skunk Spray and How to Remove Skunk Smell from a Dog
Anyone who has ever had a pet sprayed by a skunk immediately can recognize that horrible, eye-watering stench. It invades and permeates not only the pet’s fur, but if you’re not astute and the pet runs into the house, it can add a lasting aroma to everything within your house.
Being sprayed by a skunk is not only a stinky annoyance, it can also lead to illness. Skunk spray has even been used as a biologic weapon — to disperse crowds and to cause injury.
For a skunk, it’s all about self-protection. Skunks are usually docile animals that are most active at dawn and dusk. They have good hearing and a good sense of smell but do not see well. If threatened by another animal, a skunk may first give a warning with a foot stamp, a hiss and a tail-raise. If the warning is not heeded — watch out — here comes the spray!
What is Skunk Spray?
Skunk “spray” is a secretion produced by the skunk’s anal glands. It can travel up to 15 feet and usually hits its mark. The fluid is a mixture of seven volatile compounds — consisting of thiols, thioacetates, and a methylquinoline. The thiols are the big contributors to the repellant odor, while the thioacetates help to make the smell last a long time — especially when water is added, which is why pets continue to smell even after a traditional bath.
What Effects Does Skunk Spray Have On Pets?
The effects can be oral, ocular (eyes), dermal (skin), and respiratory. The severity of the symptoms depends on what part of the body is sprayed and the proximity of the skunk. Symptoms can include:
- ocular swelling and redness
- temporary blindness
A more severe reaction can occur but is very rare. The thiol components can cause oxidative damage to red blood cells. The result is the destruction of red blood cells leading to anemia, but only a few cases have been reported in the literature and ASPCA toxicology database. One dog developed a mild to moderate case of anemia and recovered with supportive care. Another dog developed severe anemia, had a seizure and died. This is the only documented death related to a skunk spray in a dog.
The Japanese breeds of dogs (e.g., Akitas, Tosas, Shiba Inus) seem to be most susceptible to the effects of the spray. In general, cats are more sensitive to oxidative damage of their red blood cells when compared to dogs because of differences in their hemoglobin molecules (the oxygen-carrying molecules of the blood). It would seem likely that cats could develop anemia after being sprayed by skunks, but this has not been documented yet.
Treatment for Skunk Spray Toxicosis
Treatment is mostly supportive. The eyes and mouth should be flushed with warm water and the animal bathed to remove the chemicals from the skin. If the spray was heavy, baseline blood work should be assessed, with repeat blood work for 72 hours to monitor for anemia. Treatment for anemia may require intravenous fluids and blood transfusions.
How to Remove Skunk Smell from Dogs and Other Pets
The best formula tested (according to the TV show, Mythbusters) to de-skunk a dog, was chemist Paul Krebaum’s “baking soda and peroxide” formula.
The Skunk Remedy Recipe (from the Skunk Remedy Homepage)
In a plastic bucket, mix well the following ingredients:
- 1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
- 1/4 cup of baking soda
- 1 to 2 teaspoons liquid soap (not detergent).
For large pets, add one quart of lukewarm tap water for complete coverage.
Wash pet promptly and thoroughly, work the solution deep into the fur. Let your nose guide you, leave the solution on about 5 minutes or until the odor is gone. Some heavily oiled areas may require a «rinse and repeat» washing.
- Use the mixture promptly — effectiveness decreases with time.
- Do not store the solution — pressure will build up and the container can explode.
- Wear gloves and avoid the pet’s eyes — the solution can sting if it gets in the eyes or in cuts on the hands. Bleaching of fur, towels, etc. can occur due to the peroxide.
Don’t forget that skunks can carry rabies. If bite wounds are found, you should seek prompt veterinary treatment and guidance.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
- Means, Charlotte. Skunk Spray Toxicosis: An Odiferous Tale. DVM360. Electronic application. April 1, 2013.
- The Skunk Remedy Recipe. Accessed November 30, 2013.
What to Do If a Pet Is Sprayed in the Eyes by a Skunk
Tabitha Kucera, RVT, CCBC, KPA-CTP, is a veterinary technician and writer with over a decade of experience working in veterinary medicine for small animal veterinary hospitals, farm sanctuaries, and various cat and dog rescues. She is also Fear Free Certified and a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.
Updated on 12/18/21
Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM, is a small animal veterinarian and writer with five years of general practice, emergency medicine, and geriatric pet health experience. She is certified as a Fear Free doctor. Dr. Tarantino is part of The Spruce Pets’ Veterinary Review Board.
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Emily Estep is a biologist and fact checker focused on environmental sciences. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Science in Plant Biology from Ohio University. Emily has been a proofreader and editor at a variety of online media outlets over the past decade and has reviewed more than 200 articles for The Spruce Pets for factual accuracy.
Skunks are usually happy to mind their own business as they forage for food in the hours around dusk and dawn. Startle a skunk, however, and they may launch an offensive odor.
Getting rid of the skunk smell is one thing, but what if your dogs is sprayed in the eyes by a skunk?
What is skunk spray and where does it come from?
The fluid is a mixture of seven volatile compounds — consisting of thiols, thioacetates, and a methylquinoline. The thiols are the big contributors to the repellant odor, while the thioacetates help to make the smell last a long time, especially when water is added, which is why pets continue to smell even after a traditional bath.
Skunks have a pair of specialized sacs located in their anus; each sac is connected to the outside by a small duct that opens just inside the anus. The sacs are merely pouches that store an extremely foul-smelling secretion produced by glands that line the sacs.
Skunks are docile but will defend themselves when threatened. If a skunk feels threatened, they will give a warning which includes hissing, stomping of feet, and elevation of the tail. Failure to heed the warning signs will result in the unlucky aggressor being sprayed with the skunk’s anal gland secretions. Skunks are highly accurate in their aim and can spray up to 16 feet away!
What Effects Does Skunk Spray Have on Dogs?
The effects can be oral, ocular (eyes), dermal (skin), and respiratory. Dermal absorption of the spray is minimal. The severity of signs may depend on a pet’s proximity to a skunk when being sprayed and the area of exposure (face vs. legs or side). If an animal is sprayed directly in the face, inhalation can occur.
The chemicals in skunk spray irritate and, if inhaled, can inflame the lining of the nose, throat and lungs. If your dog swallowed some of the oils, vomiting may be an issue.
Ocular swelling and redness, drooling, and squinting are commonly noted in animals that have been sprayed. Many dogs will rub their faces, roll, sneeze, and vomit. Temporary blindness may occur. Other symptoms can include chemical conjunctivitis and corneal damage.
A more severe reaction can occur but is very rare. The thiol components can cause oxidative damage to red blood cells. The result is the destruction of red blood cells leading to anemia, but only a few cases have been reported in the literature.
What to Do If a Pet Is Sprayed in the Eyes by a Skunk
Animals, like humans, reflexively blink or close their eyes when something is coming at them, but it’s not uncommon for a dog to surprise a skunk with their noses which can result in a dog’s face and eyes being sprayed.
This can cause irritation and pain to your dog’s eyes as mentioned above. If this happens, you will want to immediately flush your dog’s eyes out. To clean your dog’s eyes, flush each eye several times with a properly formulated eye wash for dogs for 10-15 minutes. You do not want to use a contact lens solution or Visine to flush your dog’s eyes. There are different products available on the market that are safe to use in this way. If you live in an area where skunks are common, it wouldn’t hurt to keep some on hand. Prevent your pet from pawing and rubbing their eyes to reduce the chance of secondary trauma.
When flushing your dogs eyes, you should approach your dog from the side and have a handful of treats to help make this uncomfortable situation more tolerable for your dog.
You should also use paper towels to help absorb the excess oil on the face and coat. The secretion itself is a yellow oil that will cling to most surfaces that contacts; like all oils, it does not mix with water. Be careful not to spread the oils from one part of the dog to another. Only wipe where the oils are already to avoid making the problem worse.
When bathing your dog, you should avoid getting the solution in your dog’s eyes, ears, or mouth. Prior to the bath, you can apply a small strip of eye lubricant, such as Optixcare to your dog’s eyes to help protect the eyes in case any of the solution splashes or drips in them. You can use a damp washcloth rinsed with lukewarm water to wipe face if needed after dabbing excess oils with paper towels and flushing eyes.
Although this situation is no fun for both you and your dog, it’s important to stay calm. Your dog will most likely be disorientated and may be scared, and if you are panicking, it will just escalate your dog’s fear and stress. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself how difficult this is for your dog.
Calling your veterinarian to make sure there is nothing else they recommend for your dog is always a good idea. If, after you’ve rinsed, the dog has red eyes and/or is squinting or pawing at the eyes, contact your veterinarian.
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- My Dog Was Sprayed By A Skunk—Now What? Texas A&M UniversityCollege of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
- Skunk Spray and Your Dog. VCA Hospitals.
- Zaks, Karen L et al. Heinz body anemia in a dog that had been sprayed with skunk musk. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association vol. 226,9 (2005): 1516-8, 1500. doi:10.2460/javma.2005.226.1516