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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.

Dan Abendschein 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 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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