The first skunk smell of the season is always a bit of a shock, especially if the skunk has decided to cloud up your yard with his deterring scent, even worse if your dog was the target.
After all, we’ve all been there, sitting on the couch, getting ready for some serious binge-watching on Netflix or finishing up a book when it hits us—that smell. OK, skunk, you think, probably a little mishap down the block. But the dog’s in the yard so you should probably let her in, just in case. But you’ll just wait until this episode is over. But then the smell gets stronger. And stronger. And like the promo poster for a 1950’s horror movie, you realize IT’S COMING FROM THE BACKYARD!
You run to the door and the smell hits you in the face like a monsoon. And there’s your dog, sitting on the front steps, drenched in skunk-stink and making her best puppy-dog eyes trying to plead her innocence: “I was trying to say hello.”
Skunks usually show up at dusk and dawn, and often hide in the bushes. If your dog’s nearby and happens to hear some rustling branches, he’s going to go check out the situation. And then, wham! He’s a walking furball of stink.
So what do you? Depending on your house and the temperature, you have a few options. Know that you’ll have to think fast. If you let the dog inside your house, you’ve just multiplied your problem, but if you leave your scent-challenged friend in the yard, he may encounter another skunk since they often travel in pairs.
First and foremost, check your dog’s eyes, nose and mouth. If his eyes are red and irritated, rinse them with cool water. If you have an eyewash solution or kit for humans, use it on your dog. If you can corral your dog into the basement or the bathroom tub, do it. If you can bathe him outside, even better. But don’t wait. Most people scramble to find a bathing solution on the internet and then hit every corner of the house looking for the listed items. It’s easy to prepare a skunk kit ahead of time. While there are variations on scent-removing solutions, they usually consist of the following items: One quart of hydrogen peroxide—preferably the 3-percent solution, which can be found at your pharmacy, a one-quarter cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of dish soap. Keep the parts separate until you’re ready to use them. A pre-mixed solution won’t save much time and will probably make a huge mess in your cabinet when it explodes—think erupting volcano at your fifth-grade science fair, only without the orange food coloring.
Wet your dog down from head to tail with the solution and let him soak in it for 15 minutes before working it in with your fingers. Be sure to wash his coat and his skin. When you’re finished, you can follow up with dog shampoo—an oatmeal shampoo works best since it treats dry, irritated skin. And then, like the bottle says, rinse and repeat.
Removing a skunk’s scent requires three or four baths—more in some cases—so be prepared to do some work. It’s hardly a one-and-done effort. You don’t have to wash them non-stop—you can dry them off and give them a break—but you should be diligent with your washing efforts. Give them the sniff test but make sure you check with others. Your sense of smell might take a few days to recover.
Remember, it’s all about applying and reapplying. There isn’t a magic number when it comes to baths. You may find it takes two or three to get your dog smelling fresh once again or four or five. If you can’t get rid of the smell, bring your dog to a groomer for a thorough cleaning.
Depending on how much time your skunk-soaked dog spent in the house, you’ll probably have a bit of a stink problem indoors as well. You can help dissipate the odor by leaving a few bowls of distilled vinegar or coffee grounds in the affected rooms. Both usually help soak up the odors and will have your house back to normal in no time. Well, if normal is a salad-serving coffee house, but you get the idea.
With their hibernating habits, skunks are an out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue each winter, but when spring arrives, they come out in full force. If you prepare ahead of time and stay calm if your dog gets sprayed, you’ll be able to rid your dog of that awful scent. Just be patient. A few baths and your dog will be back to normal, ready to head outside for more encounters with raccoons, possum and all the other critters who are celebrating the return of spring.
Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.