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Skunked! Why skunks spray, what they spray, and what to do about it

Learning about skunks behavior may help prevent being "skunked"


Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) by cliff1066 on Flickr

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

by cliff1066 on Flickr

Skunks and pets > Why skunks spray and how to remove the odor

Your dog barks frantically, or maybe zooms off in another direction. Then you smell it. Skunk! I think that this has happened to each dog I have lived with at some point in their life. Some escape with just a spritz, other dogs come back dripping in skunk juice. Not good.

Once, in the rainy darkness, I startled a skunk while checking on my chickens. I never saw the skunk, but it sprayed on the tall wet grass. I unknowingly walked through this grass, getting "skunked" myself. Not good.

Why and what do skunks spray?
Skunks are nocturnal, or more accurately, crepuscular; active mainly at twilight, dawn and full moon (dimly light) nights. Skunks have a strong sense of smell and hear well, but do not see very well. They do, however, have very good aim with their offensive scent.

The scent glands are similar to dog and cat anal glands. They are located on either side of the anus and produce an oily secretion. The secretion contains sulfur compounds (what produces the rotten egg smell), and to me, it smells most like very strong garlic. Not horrible, but definitely overwhelming.

Skunks are adept as using their scent glands as an weapon against predators. Spraying is not the skunks first line of defense. They engage in a series of displays to ward off potential attacks before spraying. If a skunk feels threatened, they will hiss, stamp their feet and raise their tail as warning signs. A mother skunk with kits may spray offensively.

Once they decide to spray, the tail goes up, and the offensive secretion is sent off to its target. (See photo #2 for the tail-up posture of a spraying skunk.)

Help - how do I get rid of skunk smell on my pet or myself?
The "old" methods of removing skunk odor, a tomato juice or "Massengill" douche bath just never seemed to fully rid the pet of the odor. Even if passable, once the pet gets wet (i.e. rain shower), the skunk smell reblooms.

We now have a much more effective skunk-odor-removal technique, thanks to chemist Paul Krebaum, who developed the skunk odor removal recipe in 1993 utilizing common household ingredients.

Dogs Guide Jenna Stregowski, RVT, has done an excellent job of describing this recipe, along with some important safety and skunk spray prevention tips.
How to Remove the Skunk Smell from Dogs

Play it safe
Learning about the skunk's lifestyle and behavior will help minimize future attacks of the smelly stuff. I often check on my chickens and geese chores at night, and try always to take a flashlight out so I am not surprised. I go outside first, so my dog doesn't unknowingly startle a skunk before it is too late and we are all reeking of skunk odor. (It has happened before.) Now thankfully, we don't need to suffer through the smell.

Read More About: Skunks and pets

Photo #1: Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) by cliff1066 on Flickr
Photo #2: Why is this skunk raising its tail? (Watch out!) by kreyton on Flickr

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