Skunks are usually happy to mind their own business as they forage for food in the dusk and dawn hours. Startle a skunk, however, and they may launch an odor offensive.
Getting rid of the bothersome skunk odor is one thing, but are there any medical issues to be concerned about if your pet is sprayed by a skunk? The answer is usually "no," but read on for things to watch for if your pet has been sprayed by a skunk.
Sprayed in the eyes
The normal reaction is to blink and close the eyes immediately, but things happen fast. If you notice your dog rubbing their eyes, blinking fast (blepharospasm), experiencing redness or tearing, your dog may have gotten some spray in the eyes.
First aid: flush your pet's eyes copiously clean water, ideally with sterile saline (saline eye wash: not for contact lenses, but the solution for use in eyes). Prevent pawing and rubbing of the eyes to reduce the chance of secondary trauma. Follow up with an veterinary examination if your pet doesn't quickly improve.
With continued irritation, your dog may be suffering from the potentially caustic effects of skunk oil. Possible effects of skunk oil include corneal ulceration, conjunctivits, or uveitis; all painful eye conditions that require topical and medical treatment from your veterinarian. Thankfully this is rare, but eye conditions can happen and change quickly. Please see your veterinarian if your dog's eyes seem uncomfortable.
Check for wounds
While usually sprayers instead of fighters, skunks do have sharp teeth and claws and can do damage if provoked. Check your pet for bites and lacerations post-skunk encounter, and see your veterinarian if you notice any wounds. Don't be fooled by a "small wound" -- that may just be the part you can see, in the skin. Typically bite wounds do a lot of damage under the skin, and if left untreated, create a perfect environment for an abscess in a few days.
It is important to remember that skunks may carry Rabies. Take necessary precautions (call your vet or human physician) and make sure your pet is current on their vaccinations.
Toxic effects of skunk spray
While rare, skunk spray can have toxic effects, sometimes causing death. The toxic effect occurs when sprayed in an enclosed area, such as a burrow or den. Open air sprays are by far more common and not considered toxic.
Here is an account of a Jack Russell Terrier who collapsed and convulsed after being sprayed in a closed skunk den. He was unconscious, but did survive.
The 2005 May 1 issue of JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) describes a case of Heinz body anemia in a dog that had been sprayed with skunk musk. Learn more about Heinz body anemia.
Most of the time, getting sprayed by a skunk is a stinky annoyance. Checking your pet's eyes, looking for wounds and being on the alert for potential "closed" skunk areas will ensure your pet's health and safety concerning skunks.
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