Last Updated: September 5, 2023 by Lisa Melillo
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being sprayed by a skunk, you know how uniquely disgusting the odor can be.
It’s notorious for a reason. Skunks, despite being deceptively adorable in their appearance, are equipped with specialized versions of the anal scent glands that are found in many other members of their taxonomic group, the Mustelidae.
Among mustelids, the skunk’s glands are among the most advanced. The odor itself comes from a class of chemical compounds known as thiols, or alternately, as “mercaptans.” These sulfur-based chemicals smell to high heaven, and not only is the odor abhorrent, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get the smell out from pet fur.
Skunks, which are pretty common in suburban areas in the US and Europe, won’t hesitate to spray a curious dog. In fact, their tendency to do so was commented on by none other than Charles Darwin, in his Voyages of the Beagle:
Conscious of its power, it roams by day about the open plain, and fears neither dog nor man. If a dog is urged to the attack, its courage is instantly checked by a few drops of the fetid oil, which brings on violent sickness and running at the nose. Whatever is once polluted by it, is for ever useless.
A skunk’s secretions are quite oily, with a high lipid content that adheres a little too well to hair and fur.
You might be tempted to start by rinsing your dog’s fur with the hose, but unfortunately, the way the odor compounds degrade can actually cause them to become even more odorous on contact with water. As the compounds break down into sulfurous-smelling thiols, the smell just keeps getting worse.
Skunk spray stinks. Period. So what can you do to remove skunk odor when Fido comes home after a run-in with the neighborhood wildlife?
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get the skunk smell under control. Along with home remedies like peroxide mixtures and tomato juice, there are also over the counter products you can buy that are designed to neutralize and remove skunk stink from your dog’s fur.
First Things First: How to Prevent Skunking Incidents In The First Place
The first thing you should do is try to prevent skunks from hanging around your property, and prevent your dog from having face to face encounters with them.
In some areas, this might be easier said than done. But there are a few precautions you can take to keep skunks away from your property.
- Remove any potential food sources. If skunks are drawn to your yard, the problem might be that you’re inadvertently providing them with a convenient source of food. Skunks, like racoons and other wildlife pests, will go for your trash can if it’s not sealed well. If possible, make sure your outdoor trash cans are covered with a tight lid that’s difficult to remove easily. You can also deter skunks and other pests by removing fallen fruits, nuts, and other edible materials that may have fallen from trees or bushes on your property.
- Keep your yard well lit at night. Skunks are primarily crepuscular, and to some extent nocturnal. Bright lights act as deterrents. As a cost saving measure, you can install motion sensors that activate outdoor lighting only when an animal triggers them, reducing the amount of electricity you’re using to keep skunks away.
- Automated sprinklers can also chase off skunks. You can actually find sprinkler systems intended to deter wildlife. When the motion sensor is activated, they squirt out water, chasing off raccoons, skunks, and other neighborhood animals.
- Walls, fences, and other barriers also work. Skunks aren’t particularly good at climbing, so a tall fence or border wall can keep them away.
These measures can reduce the chances that your dog will have an unpleasant run-in with a skunk.
With that said, here’s what you can do if they’ve been sprayed.
Tomato Juice: A Time-Tested Solution — Or Is It?
One of the most popular home remedies for skunk odor is actually tomato juice. If you’re a ‘90s kid, you might remember that old Rugrats plotline where Chuckie gets sprayed by a skunk, and his dad bathes him in a bathtub full of tomato juice.
But does it actually work?
It turns out – no. Tomato juice can mask the scent, but the acids contained in it don’t do a whole lot to actually neutralize any of the sulfer-based compounds responsible for the odor.
So it’s not really your best bet. You’ll probably just end up with a sticky mess if you try to slather your dog in tomato juice.
We don’t recommend it. However, there are other formulations that can neutralize the stench.
The Best Solution: Skunk Odor Eliminator
Before we get into home remedies, let’s talk about a solution specifically designed for this very problem – Skout’s Honor Skunk Odor Eliminator.
When it comes to actually eliminating the skunk odor, it’s just about the closest you’ll come to a sure thing.
The product contains a proprietary molecular deodorizer that is designed to destroy skunk odor thiols on contact, removing the source of the smell quickly and effectively. Safe for use on pet fur, as well as on inanimate objects that have been skunked, it’s a great thing to have around the house just in case.
To use it, just pour a liberal amount onto your dog’s fur, spreading it evenly and massaging it gently into their coat. (Be careful to avoid eye contact, though, as this product can act as an eye irritant.)
Then, just rinse them off with room temperature water. Repeat as needed, and Skout’s Honor should take care of the smell for you.
Hydrogen Peroxide, Baking Soda, and Dishsoap: A Simple Home Formula
In a pinch, you can whip up a solution for skunk odor out of a few commonplace household ingredients.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 tsp liquid dishsoap
Now, it’s bath time. Spread the solution evenly on your dog’s fur. Let it sit for a minute or two, then rinse it out thoroughly.
Afterward, wash your dog’s fur with your regular pet shampoo.
Once your dog’s nice and dry, the majority of the smell should be gone.
But honestly, this isn’t actually the optimal solution. If possible, it’s best to have an actual de-skunking product on hand.
Feminine Hygiene Products: In a Pinch, A Douche Can Actually Work
Another “in a pinch” solution you can use, provided you have one lying around, is actually a douching kit — as in, the feminine hygiene product.
Two ounces of douching solution, mixed into a gallon of water, can be surprisingly effective.
Be sure to rinse your dog’s fur thoroughly afterward, as with other home skunk solutions.
Overall, Skunk-Specific Products Are Your Best Bet
While home formulations using ingredients like dish soap can help in a pinch, your best bet is a product specifically designed to break down the compounds responsible for skunk odor.
If skunks frequent your neighborhood, and your dog’s been sprayed in the past, it’s a good idea to keep some Skunk Odor Eliminator on hand, just in case. We would also strongly suggest you take a look at our article on the best dog odor candles/sprays to take care of any residual odor that may get tracked into your house.
In combination with measures designed to keep skunks away from your property and your dog, like outdoor lighting and tall fences, you can minimize the chances of a skunk attack, and if it does occur, you can avoid the hassle of dealing with a smelly