Skunks: It’s Not Only Spring That’s in the Air

What to do when urban wildlife cuts the cheese

If you don’t like the way skunks smell, you’re not alone. Skunks don't like the way skunks smell, either. And this is fortunate, because it means they don’t spray on a random, recreational basis, but only when danger lurks and it's absolutely necessary.

Still, and not to be indelicate, skunks suffer from a certain amount of leakage. Their scent glands secrete some odor constantly, and most particularly during the mating season. Which explains why, when it comes to sex and the single skunk, coupling is a strictly utilitarian affair and speed is of the essence.

Unlike crows, wolves, and even the occasional humans, there’s no romance, after-glow, or lifetime commitment in the skunky mating ritual. 

After a quick consummation, the boy skunk and girl skunk slink away as quickly as possible, in opposite directions. Last one out is a rotten egg, or at least smells like one. And they make no promise to meet or see each other ever again.

It should come as no surprise that skunks live a life of quiet and odoriferous solitude.

But a word here, in defense of skunks. They're not fighters – they do not attack their own kind, or any other kind, with tooth or nail or knife or gun. Their best defense is an olfactory offense. They turn the other cheek, as it were. You’ve got to respect an animal that doesn't want to inflict mortal wounds, just some temporary pain in the aesthetics.

Though our preferences may differ in such areas as romance, weapons, and noxious odors, skunks and humans do have a few things in common.  We both like a temperate climate, and think a Southern California suburban house looks pretty darned inviting, though the skunk is willing to rent space under a porch or in a crawl space.

And we both have an appetite for some of the same foods, though the skunk won’t turn up his nose at some pre-owned delicacies -- half-eaten pizza crusts and such. Another reason to slap a tight fitting lid on your trash bins.

Certainly you wouldn’t knowingly tempt skunks to hang around your house. You probably take extra precautions, such as securing your trashcans and bringing in the pet food at night. However, if you have a dog, odds are, one of these days,  that dog will have a word or two with the business end of a skunk. And guess who's going to lose that argument.

What to do if your dog gets sprayed?  Of course the internet has a whole host of shampoo suggestions, ranging from the familiar – tomato juice -- to the more esoteric, such as a spray bottle filled with Listerine.  

My dog has been through two skunkings. Let me tell you, tomato juice just made him smell like a skunk sandwich with catsup. The best homemade remedy to remove the skunk smell, and the one with chemical credentials to back it up, is this recipe.

  • 1 Quart hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ Cup baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon  liquid soap (this just provides a viscous transport for the peroxide/baking soda reaction)
  • Rubber gloves

Pour the mixture over your dog and massage. Rinse and repeat.

A few tips and warnings:

  • The sooner you wash your dog, the better the results
  • The combination of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda produces a chemical reaction that’s short-lived.  Mix it  on an as-needed basis
  • When mixing the solution, use a non-reactive container – something made of plastic, for instance, or glass.
  • And before you throw away the dog collar or any affected bedding, try using Febreeze. ( I’d toss those gloves, though.)

Two other essential ingredients: Time and forbearance. It will take more than a week for the smell to dissipate entirely.

I haven’t experimented with some of the commercial preparations now on the market, but the Listerine remedy intrigues.  I’m going to try the latter when my dog Albert loses the next debate.

And if it doesn't work, well, so be it. I figure in the grand scheme of things, a lingering case of wildlife B.O. is the least of my worries. Of all our worries.

Bernard Kane April 03, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Fun and useful information. Skunks do what they do!
Dan Abendschein (Editor) April 03, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I uploaded a picture from 2005 of my cat Fuzz in a standoff with a skunk (you can see it next to the right of the main photo on this article). At the time, we had just met him and we has living outdoors and working his way into our home. We were feeding him outdoors, just about where the skunk is standing. Soon after this we took him into our home, and stopped putting food out there as it was clearly attracting wildlife. Fuzz did not get sprayed after this encounter, thankfully. He is still bold enough to take on wildlife though, or at least that's what he tells me.
Mary Barrie April 03, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Very funny and informative article, Karin! I hope some of my fellow LCF trail users read it. Those would be the ones who let their dogs run loose on the Gould Canyon trail. There is a huge skunk who lives along the trail near JPL. He stands his ground to all and sundry who come by and appears to be saying "Make my day!" My little dog and I, when we see him on the trail, are more than happy to go home by another way.
Angela Odom April 03, 2012 at 05:09 PM
"just some temporary pain in the aesthetics." Love it!! My dogs have been to the skunk spa as well and I happened to be standing outside with them during one of the meet and greets. My eyes never burned so bad. I too used the concoction you mention and it works. The tomato sauce did nothing. The night of the worse spraying was informative because I could tell which dog had her nose closest to the jetstream and, as it turns out, the skunk was on its way home, under my house. That has since been remedied. I now only see them in the front of the house.
Pasadena Adjacent April 03, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I love them despite their stink. Tuxedo cats - raccoons - skunks - cows - Albert - the black and whites in the animal kingdom are so attractive.
karen on eaton canyon April 03, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I will read any article Karin Bugge writes, owing to her can't-miss combination of abundant information alongside laugh-out-loud, inventive humor.
Patrick Lee April 03, 2012 at 06:54 PM
The only thing that works for our skunked dogs is called Nature's Miracle, which is an actual enzyme that chemically neutralizes skunk odor. It works instantly and completely eliminates the skunk odor. Naturally, we keep it on hand in case of any unfortunate close encounters.
Karin Bugge April 03, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Bernard -- and dogs do what dogs do. The sad thing about Albert is that he doesn't mind getting sprayed by skunks, he just hates the bath afterwards. But Patrick, I'll put NM in the queue, after I test the Listerine. Mary, it sounds like your dog has much more sense than mine. Angela, did you have to throw out the dog collar? I've had to toss two of them, but just found the Febreeze tip on the internet the other day. PA, people often forget they're cute little suckers, despite their calling card. Karen, how nice! (Someday I'll teach you how to spell your name.) And Dan, you were very brave to take that photo.
doris finch April 03, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Having spent an entire morning in our garage with a skunk which had accidentally gotten locked in, I have acquired a kind of affection for them. This one had torn apart or knocked over anything he could find [bags of charcoal and fertilizer, bottles, garden tools etc.] but refused to leave the premises, so I cleaned up in front of and around him/her. I discovered that recorded oboe concertos played right in their face do not bother them, nor does a very close human presence. This one understood when I went right up to it and slammed the tool cabinet door just as it tried to enter. "Don't go there!" OK I finally drove it out with a squirt bottle of water. Never once was I sprayed.
Robby April 03, 2012 at 10:20 PM
I love them too. I love seeing them trundle along. I always get a firm grip on the leash when I am out with the dog as we see a skunkie, because she has not learned her lesson after 2 encounters. I love the valor of Dan's cat. And the name Fuzz.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) April 03, 2012 at 10:29 PM
@Karin - Shamefully, I was actually inside when I took it. It has been pointed out to me by people who have seen this photo that I should have been trying to help my cat. If that happened today my protective instincts would have been in hyper drive, but at that juncture, the Fuzz had not actually moved into my home yet.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) April 03, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Thanks Robby, he is still a tough old cat.
Ron Rosen April 04, 2012 at 02:21 AM
"Some day I'll teach you how to spell your name." Too much!
Petrea Burchard April 04, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Me too. I'm a little biased because I like her, but she is damned funny.
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