Dog parents who live in more rural areas will almost certainly have skunk stories. One of my friends in Maine had a dog that got skunked not once, not twice, but three times! And each time, he and his wife struggled to find a quick solution for the sour skunk’s stink that suddenly permeated every stray hair on their dog’s body. Knowing how to get rid of the skunk smell on a dog is not nearly as simple as one might imagine. Thankfully, there are a number of remedies that work pretty handily.
What causes that skunky smell?
The noxious scent of skunk spray smells that way because of a collection of sulfur-based organic compounds called thiols. It’s the same scent that is reminiscent of rotten eggs, and according to a study published by University of New Hampshire researchers, it also contains something called thioacetates, which give that skunk smell its incredible staying power. These thioacetates remain dormant at first, but morph into thiols when they come in contact with water or even humidity, making things a hundred times worse.
What happens if your dog gets skunked?
First, whatever you do, do not bring your dog into the house. The skunk oil will remain on your dog's coat until you get rid of it, and it will keep wafting up into the air. The only way to get rid of it is to remove the oil, and that is best achieved if you do it in the open air. The Humane Society then recommends checking your dogs eyes for any redness or irritation, in which case, you should immediately flush their eyes with cool water.
The next step is to find which of the many available remedies works best for your circumstances.
How to get rid of skunk smell on a dog?
Old wives’ tales and cartoons always joke about using tomato juice or tomato sauce to get rid of skunk smell. And while bathing your dog in Bloody Mary mix sounds like a great way to stain everyone and everything in the surrounding area, this concoction won’t eliminate the smell — it will only mask it.
There are a number of commercially available skunk shampoos available on the internet. Note that these shampoos are not meant for shampooing skunks, but other animals who may have been the victims of skunks. We like to imagine skunks require different shampoos and conditioners named things like Vidal Le Pew.
What is the best way to get rid of skunk smell on a dog?
But I digress. The Humane Society recommends bathing your skunked pup in a concoction consisting of:
Mix the ingredients together and, wearing rubber gloves, wash your dog with this solution. Do this as soon as your dog has been sprayed — the sooner the better. Be careful not to get the solution in their eyes at all. Also, do not store this mixture ahead of time. Make it on the spot, or it might explode in the bottle.
The Humane Society also advises that a mixture of water and diluted vinegar will work well in a pinch. In both cases, the chemicals and acids in the compounds can help break down the skunk oil, thereby eliminating it.
Do baths help eliminate skunk smell?
A bath is going to be necessary regardless of the method you use. In the case of the Humane Society concoction, you will have to rub the mixture through the dog’s fur and then rinse it out completely after leaving it for only a few minutes. The reason you don’t want to leave it in too long is that the hydrogen peroxide in the mixture could bleach your puppy's fur.
You’ll also need to wash your dog with regular pet shampoo as well. Rinse and repeat with the shampoo at least twice and then rinse again. At this point, your dog should be thoroughly de-skunked. They might even smell nice, depending on your brand of pet shampoo. Towel-dry them thoroughly and let them chill in a warm, sunny spot for the next couple of hours. Do not let them back into the woods. Otherwise, you might end up in a situation like my friend.
If your dog rubbed up against you and/or you got any of the skunk stink on yourself, you can wash your clothes in a mixture of regular laundry detergent and a half-cup of baking soda. This probably goes without saying, but be sure to keep your skunked clothes and towels separate from your regular laundry.
This article, originally published on Dec. 9, 2020, has been updated.