I have a Husky mix named Boo and a cat named Tabitha. Both of them love to nap in the sun on the patio of my small, fenced-in backyard. Lately I’ve been smelling skunk, and I’m worried about leaving them outside unattended, especially since my neighbor’s dog was skunked last year. My husband says if the pets get sprayed they’ll just need a bath in tomato juice, but I’ve heard that’s an urban legend. Which one of us is correct? Are there any serious concerns related to being skunked beyond just the awful smell?
You are wise to be concerned! Our area has been experiencing something akin to a skunk epidemic. Compared to other groomers nationally, we are seeing the highest rates in the country here in Illinois, even in the winter, which is generally when skunks lay dormant in hibernation.
Experts theorize three factors for why there are so many skunks here: First, human development of wild habitats has driven skunks into residential areas. Second, the recent cicada cycle coinciding with the “Polar Vortex.” We should have lost more skunks to the long, extreme cold, but they had the food supply to survive it. This recent warmer winter allowed them to flourish exponentially. Third, skunks are legally protected because of the vital role they play in the ecosystem.
The skunk’s spray comes from his rectal area, which means many dogs get hit directly in the face as they go to sniff. Often the spray can penetrate inside the mouth or the eyes, and can be swallowed. This can lead to swelling, nausea, and redness in the eyes, but generally does not cause permanent damage.
The oily substance that skunks emit is composed of three low molecular-weight thiol compounds: (E)-2-butene-1-thiol, 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, and 2-quinolinemethanethiol, as well as acetate thioesters of these. Put more simply, it’s a complex scent to attack. The compounds are detectable by the human nose at concentrations of only ten parts per billion, so often multiple treatments are required, especially as skunk spray penetrates porous skin deeply.
I recommend two treatments in the month following the incident, as it takes about three and a half weeks for dogs’ old skin to slough off and new skin cells to rise to the surface. Depending on the severity of the impact more treatments may be required, but I find most groomers can get ninety percent effectiveness the first treatment.
I strongly do not recommend the traditional treatment of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and a degreasing dishwashing liquid. These products are the wrong pH for your pet and can burn and irritate the skin, even changing its color. In this case, the cure would be worse than the problem!
Groomers are getting great results using a three-step process, with two treatments a month apart. The first step is a high quality-sourced green tomato conditioner combined with Gingko Oil, and a Pek Collagen conditioner. We follow with two high quality-sourced green tomato and anti-odor shampoos, and finally repeat the first step. This method addresses the cuticle and hair follicle effectively, using oil molecules to attack oil molecules.
I generally advise clients not to bathe the dogs on their own (even in tomato juice!) as it will only spread the oily substance, expanding the area of impact. Also, do not bring the pet back in the house, but crate them immediately outside or in a garage, transporting them in the crate to a groomer that offers treatment services.
All of this advice applies for cats as well, though fewer cats are hit because most cats are, and should be, indoor-only pets. The best way to let cats go outdoors is to walk them on a harness or build them a contained outdoor “catio.”
Best of luck to you, Boo, and Tabitha!
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins—one of the first groomers to attain the coveted title of International Certified Master Groomer—is the owner and master groomer at Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe and runs a vocational Train-To-Groom program at the Bishop Grooming Academy.