Is Skunk Spray Harmful?

By Susan Paretts

The unmistakable rotten-egg stench of skunk spray can last for days. This substance is not only odorous, but it can be harmful to your pets if they are sprayed with it directly, especially in the eyes or mouth. If your pooch or kitty has been doused with skunk musk, you'll need to bring him to the vet; a small amount of the spray usually can be washed away at home.

The Science of the Smell

Skunks spray their oily, smelly musk when defending themselves against predators, including your pets, if they feel threatened by them. The musk is made up of volatile chemicals called thiols. Thiols contain sulfur and account for most of the skunk musk's terrible odor. The musk also contains other volatile chemicals called thioacetates and methylquinoline. When exposed to moisture, thioacetates turn into smelly thiols, which give the musk its incredible staying power. Skunks can spray this organic musk up to 15 feet, meaning that a skunk doesn't have to be near your pet when it sprays him.

Effects of the Spray

Skunk musk can cause sneezing, nausea, vomiting and drooling in cats and dogs. It also can cause temporary blindness, squinting and ocular swelling if the pet is sprayed in his eyes. In rare cases, the thiols in the skunk spray can damage a dog's red blood cells and cause anemia, warns petMD. In general, Japanese dog breeds, including Akitas, Tosas and shiba inus are most susceptible to developing issues with anemia after a heavy spray from a skunk. Cats are susceptible to skunk-related anemia, but no cases of this have been reported. Dogs with anemia from skunk musk can develop black stools, lethargy and brown urine, warns The Bark website.

What to Do

If your dog or cat has been sprayed with a large amount of skunk musk or has been sprayed in the eyes or mouth, get him to the vet. The vet can examine him, perform blood tests and provide supportive care to prevent any serious side effects from the spray. For pets who have only gotten a small amount of spray on their coats, wash them with a solution containing 3 parts 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to 1 part baking soda, with a teaspoon of dish detergent mixed in. The soap washes away the skunk musk oils, while the peroxide and baking soda neutralize the thiols in the spray. Allow the solution to sit on your pet's coat for at least 5 minutes before rinsing it off.

Neutralizing Odors

Stubborn odors can be removed using deodorizers and shampoos specifically formulated to remove skunk musk, usually found in pet supply stores, although the hydrogen peroxide mixture should take care of most of the stench. Always mix this solution fresh because the hydrogen peroxide loses its potency if mixed ahead of time; a container of it can explode from the oxygen bubbles that it releases when stored. Wash any skunked clothing twice with regular detergent and dry it in the sun. Open your windows to allow the fresh air to reduce any remaining thiols lingering in your home.

Avoiding Skunks

Skunks are most active at dawn and dusk, so keep your pet indoors during these times. Keep your pets away from wooded areas and clear any clutter in your yard that could house skunks. Don't feed your pets outside as the food can attract wildlife such as skunks. Note that skunks can carry rabies, but their spray won't transmit this disease.