From March-November, Brookfield Animal Hospital fields phone calls from pet owners whose dogs have been sprayed by skunks.  Here is everything that you need to know about these adorable, helpful, but awful smelling creatures including how to clean your dog if he or she has been ‘skunked’.

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A Few Facts About Skunks


The skunks that live in Connecticut are Striped Skunks.  They are typically 21-26 inches long from tip of nose to tip of tail and weigh between 6 and 14 pounds. They eat both vegetables and meat including eggs, baby chicks, birds, insects, larva, earthworms, rodents, frogs, snakes, berries, roots, mushrooms, nuts, fish, chicken, pet food, and bees to name a few.  They also frequently raid trashcans.  Though they can live anywhere, they prefer lightly wooded meadowlands and suburban areas. Skunks are nocturnal meaning that they are active only at night.


Skunk Life Cycle


Skunks live in dens located under sheds, in old logs, in abandoned groundhog holes, or in holes dug in the ground by the skunk itself.  They spend winters in their dens in a deep sleep from which they occasionally rise when the weather is warm.  In February and March, skunks in Connecticut seek out mating partners, with most of the mating activity peaking near the end of March.  During this time it is not uncommon for males to wander solitarily in search of a female.  They are not monogamous.


The gestation time for a skunk is 62 days.  Skunks give birth to an average of 6 young, called kits, that are born with their eyes shut.  At 3 weeks, kits open their eyes and crawl on their own.  At seven weeks they start to accompany their mother on forays outside of the den in search of food. If you find a baby skunk with its eyes open, leave it where you find it.  Mothers can be easily scared off from their young, but are likely to return within 12 hours. More on assisting skunks in the wild here.


What Makes Skunks Smell?


Skunks belong to the Mustelid family, a group of animals that includes weasels, minks, otters, and fisher cats. All members of this family produce strong scented fluid from glands located just on the inside of their anus, but it’s the fluid of skunks that is particular noxious. The chemical that causes skunks’ scent to smell bad contains sulphur and is called a thiol.  Skunks have enough musk fluid for 5 to 6 sprays that can target their victims 10-to-15 feet with accuracy.  When threatened, skunks stomp their feet, chatter their teeth and typically twist their rear end towards their enemy.  When spaying they have been known to stand on their hands and lift their hindquarters in the air.


Great video from the Smithsonian on skunk smell


A skunk’s musk is sticky and yellow.  If directed into the eyes of another animal it can cause temporary blindness and has been liked to tear gas in its noxiousness. The smell is strong enough to induce vomiting in humans, but ironically dogs seem to tolerate it without much bother. Though the stream may have limited reach, the mist from the stream can travel quite far and stick to whatever it lands upon. This is the reason that a skunk’s smell lingers for a long time after the skunk has passed.

The Eastern Spotted Skunk. The species lives mostly in the midwest, Texas, and the Appalachian Mountain Range. It has seen a steady decline in numbers since the 1940’s.

How To De-skunk Your Pet


If your pet has been sprayed by a skunk, or more likely has just been ‘misted’ by the animal, prepare a wash by mixing 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon Dawn dishwashing soap. Place a small portion of petroleum vaseline on your index finger and touch the vaseline lightly to each corner of your dog’s eyes.  This will create a thin barrier and prevent any soap from touching your pet’s eye membrane and causing pain.


Soak your pet’s fur in luke warm water, and while wearing gloves, apply the peroxide mixture to a hand cloth and soap up the fur around your dog’s face being careful to avoid getting the mixture into his or her eyes, ears, and mouth. Once you are past your dog’s head, you can dump a small amount of the peroxide mixture onto your pet’s skin and lather it into the fur.  Allow the mixture to sit on your pet for at least 10 minutes and then thoroughly rinse it all away.  Towel dry.  Be aware that the peroxide may lighten your pet’s fur. To avoid hair discoloration or overly dry skin, do not bathe your pet in this solution more than three times in one week. If you got sprayed, you can use the same solution to wash your own body. The mixture breaks down over time, so it can’t be stored.  Instead, keep the ingredients on hand in case you need them. If you want to save some solution for a wash on the following day, keep any closure on the container loosely fitted.  The hydrogen peroxide gives off oxygen and in a closed container creates pressure.


Though the mixture described above is the best option for de-skunking your pet, the smell is likely to linger for some time.  When sprayed, the skunk’s musk aerosolizes and sticks to the lawn, your pet’s feet, and anything that your pet walked upon. If you were nearby when the spraying occurred, the smell could be on you too. It’s not uncommon for pet owners to continue to detect a faint smell of skunk for weeks after the spraying occurred.

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How To Get Skunk Smell Out Of Your Clothes


If you carried or touched your dog after he or she was sprayed, it’s likely that the sticky skunk smell got onto your clothes. Hand wash your clothes with laundry soap and 1/2 cup of baking soda, rinse, and the throw into your washing machine separately for a regular cycle as you would any other garment.


Skunks and Rabies


Every year, a few number of skunks in Connecticut test positive for rabies, usually no more than 2 or 3.  The species of animals that test positive the most for rabies in Connecticut are raccoons, bats, and cats. For questions about wildlife, contact The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Wildlife division at 860-424-3011.


Avoiding Skunks


Deter skunks from your back yard by clearing away log piles or areas under which the skunk may want to dig a den. Keep garbage containers firmly sealed and if you compost, do not include any food items that may have been cooked in butter, fat, sugar, or any other aromatic ingredients.  Never compost meat, bones, fish, or other animal byproducts, all of which will attract skunks and other nuisance animals like bears. If it is after dark, only leash walk your dog.


Skunks As Pets


It is not legal to own a pet skunk in the state of Connecticut. Skunks that have been domesticated have been bred in captivity and have had their scent glands removed between 2 and 5 weeks of age, a procedure that is much more invasive and painful than a dog or cat neuter procedure. Pet skunks require a unique diet, can easily become lost, and are often relinquished by pet owners that grow weary of providing for their special needs.

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