By Kim Everson, DVM
Take a whiff on me, that ain’t no rose!
Roll up yer window and hold yer nose
You don’t have to look and you don’t have to see
‘Cause you can feel it in your olfactory
You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin’ to high Heaven!
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” by Loudin Wainwright was one of my family’s favorite songs growing up. In fact we would burst into the song’s chorus anytime we saw roadkill of any variety. I’ll admit I find dead skunk smell somewhat appealing. And I know I’m not alone or Scratch ‘n Sniff would not have made the ever popular skunk stink sticker! But the faint roadkill aroma of skunk musk is nothing compared to a full on blast of skunk that many unfortunate dog owners experience.
Recently, a friend’s little Yorkie got sprayed during her wee-hours-of-the-morning potty break. Talk about getting the day off to a rotten start! If there is a positive note to this story it’s that little Lucy encountered her skunk during that creature’s regular crepuscular business hours (dawn/dusk). Skunks wondering around in plain sight during the daytime, when they are supposed to be in their dens sleeping, are suspicious for being rabid. (As if you’d need another reason for steering clear of a skunk you meet on your noon walk through the woods!)
Another patient of mine met a skunk several days before Thanksgiving and received a face-full of caustic skunk juice. The oily musk was so potent that casual contact with his owner made her eyes puffy and goopy from conjunctivitis. Indeed, the poor dog’s eyes were still inflamed and watery days after the incident and he suffers from a sinus infection from inhaling the horrible skunk substance.
Numerous recipes exist for removing the skunk scent from your dog. A tomato juice bath is a classic treatment that has been replaced in recent years by the following recipe:
Mix together in an open bucket:
1 quart hydrogren peroxide
1 cup baking soda
1 teaspoon liquid dish soap (e.g., Dawn)
Use a sponge or cloth to wipe animal, including inside of mouth. Keep out of eyes!
* For emergency treatment of eyes, flushing with sterile saline eye wash is recommended.
Don’t expect any topical treatment to be 100% effective. It can takes days for the skunk smell to fade (or for olfactory fatigue to set in making you “immune” to the smell!) The worst scenario I can imagine for lingering skunk scent actually happened to a friend mine. His country dog Jessie rolled in and ate a dead skunk she found in the woods, then trotted home thus “perfumed” to promptly vomit skunk all over the living room carpet. You can bathe a dog but you can’t easily remove skunk vomit from a rug! The carpet had to be removed and the plywood underneath had to be painted with a odor-sealing primer to eliminate all traces of Jessie’s misadventure.
We all know the purpose of the skunk’s smelly secretion is to ward off predators, but here are some interesting skunk facts:
- A skunk’s scent is produced and expelled from specialized anal glands similar to what dogs, cats and most other carnivores also have. (See ABC’s of Anal Glands for information about pet animals.)
- Skunks have very poor eyesight, seeing not much further than 10 feet away. Luckily for them, they can spray with accuracy about that far as well!
- Skunks rarely spray each other (except occasionally competing males during breeding season), in part because they only have enough of the sulfur-containing chemical (called mercaptan) for 5-6 uses and it takes another ten days to regenerate it.
- Skunk spray is so effective that bears, wolves, foxes and badgers rarely bother with them, especially because the skunk’s black-and-white striping reminds experienced animals to steer clear. The skunk’s most serious predator is the great horned owl graced with poor-to-nonexistent sense of smell.
- Because skunks can carry rabies virus (and remain asymptomatic), it is illegal to keep a pet skunk in most states.