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Dogs have a habit of sticking their noses up somebody else’s business.
This can get them into trouble, especially when the somebody else is a skunk.
There are 6 species of skunk that inhabit the lower 48 states. They are active at twilight and dawn; they hear and smell well, but vision, not as good as you might expect.
Skunks are relatively peaceable fellows, and prefer to mind their own business, but when a big hostile looking carnivore comes calling, they will react to the threat. They will start with a defensive posture – hissing, stamping its feet and raising its tail. If this doesn’t send the offending canid away, then they will resort to spraying their highly odiferous secretions from their anal glands – called scent or musk—but usually called….horrible. And skunks are both accurate with their aim, and the secretions can be expelled to a distance of 7 to 15 feet away!
What is skunk musk comprised of? Chemistry buffs will love this…”The skunk’s anal gland secretions contain seven major volatile components: three major thiols, three major thioacetates, and a methylquinoline. These are divided into thiols and acetate derivatives of the thiols. Two of these thiols, (E)-2-butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, are responsible for the repellent odor. These two thiols constitute 51% to 70% of the anal gland secretions. The seventh component is an alkaloid 2-methylquinoline, which is not as volatile as the thiols and has a nitrogenous base.”
The thioacetates are particularly wicked, because their smell blooms with the addition of water, and can stay entrapped in the fur for up to a year! I first heard this fact from our groomer, who verified that the low level of skunk I smelled in the wards one day was residual from one of the grooming patients, who had been skunked almost a year previously!
So, apart from the obvious horrible smell, if a dog, or cat is “skunked,” can there be problems that require the pet to be seen at the emergency service?
Actually, yes. Most of the time we will see the pet to bathe it because the owners simply cannot tolerate the smell of the dog in the house with them. Trust me, we get that! But the pet may have some irritation of the eyes and gums if the skunk managed a “direct hit” to the face. In more serious cases, the thiols mentioned above can react with the pet’s red blood cells, and affect their ability to carry hemoglobin. This really stinks, in a worse way than the obvious smell, because if the red blood cells cannot carry hemoglobin around, then the cells of the body don’t get the oxygen they need. No oxygen=no life.
That seems really dramatic and every reader is now coughing “Bull*hmpf, hmpf, hmpf” behind their politely closed hands, but this info is hot off the presses from an article written by ASPCA’s Poison Control Hotline. Some pets — cats, for example — as well as Akitas, Shiba Inu’s, and Japanese Tosa’s—have red blood cells that are more sensitive to the oxidative damage of the thiols. Basicially the thiols interfere with the uptake of oxygen on the red blood cell, causing a condition called methemoglobinemia. In methemoglobinemia, the iron that is bound to the red blood cells doesn’t allow the oxygen to be released, and the blood is bluish, or brown. Well, if the oxygen isn’t released to the body’s cells, as the blood makes its journey around the body, then the cells basically become asphyxiated.
Can this situation of methemoglobin-affected red blood cells from skunk musk kill a pet? Yes, but admittedly in extremely rare cases, and possibly only in extreme exposures. As a matter of fact, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s toxicology database only revealed two cases of severe and extreme illnesses resulting from being “skunked,” and both were in dogs. One was a Pharoah Hound that went home after hospitalization and care; the other was a Boxer, who had been “skunked” five times previous to the exposure that finally resulted in his hospitalization. His methemoglobinemia was so severe that he developed seizures and died. These 2 patients were out of a database that included 107 cases reported between November 2001 and May 2011. Of course, most of the time skunk exposure cases are not reported.
Treatment is aimed at alleviating any irritation to the eyes, and making sure the pet does not have any irritation to the corneas, as well as alleviating any skin irritation, as well as eradicating-to the extent possible- the foul odor of the skunk spray. The thiols in the skunk spray are not water-soluble and do not respond to soap. Most skunk decontamination recipes are based on a baking soda and peroxide mixture to oxidize the thiols and convert them into water soluble sulfonates. Some skunk decontamination recipes follow at the end of this article.
If the pet is tremoring (the symptom exhibited by the Boxer above), or if the skunk spray seems excessive, excessively strong, or if the history of skunk exposure suggests multiple “skunkings,” then the pet should be hospitalized, placed on intravenous fluids, and have baseline bloodwork performed, to assess the condition of the red blood cells. The patient should be observed for up to 72 hours before releasing the pet from the hospital.
The source material for this article was based on an article written by Dr. Charlotte Means, DVM, MLIS,DABVT, DABT at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois and can be accessed at
In the event that your pet was exposed to a poison, or a toxic dose of a medicine, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois can be contacted at 1-888-426-4435. This is a fee-based service, NOT free.
Krebaum skunk odor removal formula*
1 quart fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
1-2 tsp of liquid dishwashing detergent
For large dogs, add one quart of tepid water to ensure complete coverage. Mix the above ingredients together.
Bathe the animal outdoors. Apply the formula to the pet, working deeply into the fur, and allow it to set for five minutes. The dog WILL WANT TO SHAKE so be prepared!
Rinse with copious amount of water after five minutes. Repeat if necessary.
The mixture must be used promptly and will not work if stored for any length of time.
Do not store in a closed container. The container could break as the peroxide releases oxygen.
The pet’s fur (as well as clothing, towels, and carpeting) may be bleached by the formula.
The dog will want to shake while you are waiting that 5 minutes, so dress accordingly. This is another good reason to do this outdoors, because the smell and the concoction can land on your bed, carpeting, etc.
REMEMBER-the water sitting in the hose out in the Valley sun all day CAN BE SCALDING HOT. Be very careful to not scald yourself, or your dog!
*Source: Krebaum P. Skunk odor removal. Chem Engineer News 1993;Oct 18:99
In the clinic, when faced with the fairly daunting prospect of a recently skunked dog, we bathe with the same formula; but we add the step of soaking the pet for 10 minutes in Tomato Juice first, and we use Dawn Blue for our liquid soap, because it has a de-greasing agent. We then rinse and and finish off with a shampoo of “Skunk Off” afterwards.