How To Get Skunk Spray and Smell off a Dog

Janelle Leeson
By Janelle Leeson. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Dec. 14, 2023
A Jack Russell Terrier is shampooed by his pet parent.

Dog fur can hold onto some unpleasant odors, but skunk is undoubtedly the toughest to get rid of. If your dog was sprayed by a skunk, your first thought might be to reach for the tomato juice.

However, professional dog groomers and zoologists say that won’t work. Skunk spray is an unpleasant blend of sulfur, hydrogen, and other molecules that are very smelly and cling tightly to surfaces.

This guide will explain how to get skunk smell off a dog. Plus, we’ve collected tips from a zoologist on how to avoid getting sprayed by a skunk in the first place.

Why Do Skunks Spray Dogs?

“Typically, a skunk will use their spray as their last defense,” explains Tara Baumgardner, assistant curator of animal ambassadors at the Virginia Zoo.

Because it can take 10 to 14 days to refill their glands, skunks give many warnings that they’re feeling threatened before releasing the bad odor. They stomp their feet, hiss, or raise their tail.

Baumgardner says that some species of skunk even do a handstand before spraying.

Removing Skunk Smell on Dogs

Tomato juice only covers up skunk odor for a short time; it doesn't get rid of it.

Baumgardner explains that it’s the sulfur-based chemicals called thiols that make skunk spray smell so bad. Non-odorous chemicals called thioacetates help the oily spray cling to surfaces.

However, when thioacetates get wet, they turn into smelly thiols. This is why the skunk smell comes back after trying to wash it off.

The solution: use a cleaning product or mixture that converts the thiol compounds into a different type of compound, says Baumgardner. For a simplified approach, follow these steps to bathe your dog after a skunk encounter:

Find a Space To Clean Your Pup

To stop the skunk odor from getting into your home, choose to bathe your dog outside using a garden hose if the weather allows.

If outdoor bathing isn’t an option, prepare the bathing area by removing items that the skunk oil might cling to, like a bath rug or shower curtains.

Get Your Skunk Smell Removal Products Ready

Gather the necessary items for your dog-washing station, including:

  • Disposable or silicone bathing gloves

  • A towel

  • Dog cleaning products specifically made to remove skunk odor

  • Doggie deep conditioner

Tufts University reports that a homemade solution of everyday supplies can also be used for getting skunk spray out of dogs’ coats:

  • 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide

  • 1/4 cup of baking soda

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid soap (not detergent)

However, this solution should not be used on dogs with sensitive skin, cautions Kim Kier, the owner of and master groomer at Little Barks Grooming & Boutique in Columbia, South Carolina.

Moreover, hydrogen peroxide causes vomiting in dogs, so it's very important to stop dogs from licking themselves after putting it on. Before putting anything on your dog's skin, contact your veterinarian. Make sure to avoid getting it anywhere near your pup’s eyes.

If you decide to use the DIY skunk solution, prepare and use it only when needed, rather than storing it for future use. If you’d rather have a skunk solution on hand, commercially available products specifically made to remove skunk odors are your best bet, such as:

Kier recommends following the bath with a deep conditioning treatment, such as Isle of Dogs™ Coature No.51 Heavy Management Dog Conditioner.

Clean Your Dog’s Face and Eyes

If you suspect that skunk spray has gotten into your dog's eyes, mouth, or open wounds, contact your veterinarian for care. Signs that a skunk sprayed your dog's eyes include:

Gently clean your dog's face and eyes with a damp washcloth, wiping away from the outer eye area. Avoid getting the cleaning solution in or near your dog's mouth or eyes. You can also use cleansers specifically made for the eye area, but always talk with your veterinarian before using any new solution in or near your pet's eyes.

Clean Your Dog’s Coat

Use an old towel you don't mind throwing away to wipe away any excess skunk spray from your dog's coat. Read the application instructions carefully, then apply your chosen cleaning solution. Keep in mind that some solutions may need to be applied to dry fur.

After thoroughly washing the solution from your dog’s coat, follow with a deep conditioner, which will help restore moisture to your dog's skin and fur. Repeat the process if needed until the skunk odor is gone.

Clean the Area and Your Clothes

As you tackle the skunk odor on your pet, remember that the smell can also cling to your clothes and the area where you washed your dog. Wash your clothing right away, using an effective odor-eliminating laundry product:

Once your clothes have been thoroughly washed, hang them to air-dry in a well-ventilated area.

If any lingering skunk odor remains, repeat the washing process using the same odor-eliminating detergent or laundry additive.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Getting Sprayed by a Skunk

Skunks are crepuscular—like cats—which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk.

“You can reduce your chances of meeting a skunk by avoiding walking your pets in or near wooded areas during these times of day,” Baumgardner suggests.

Keep in mind that spraying is a skunk's last resort, so calmly recalling your dog could keep them from being sprayed. Skunks can spray about 10 feet and wind can carry the spray further, Baumgardner explains.

Approaching the skunk would most likely make the skunk feel more threatened and increase the chances of you and your pup being sprayed.

Featured Image: alexei_tm/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Janelle Leeson


Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

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