Can my dog’s run-in with a skunk cause worse problems than the odor?

Elizabeth Rozanski, an emergency and critical care vet at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, responds

illustration of skunk and dog together

Skunks are very common throughout much of the United States. Their scent glands, located near the tail, serve as the primary defense for these nocturnal animals. Although online sources associate “skunking” with a variety of alarming health problems, these rarely (if ever) have been shown to happen. One reported case blames skunk spray as the cause of death, but it’s unclear if there were other factors at play.

Most skunkings occur when an off-leash pet corners a skunk. Because this usually happens to dogs chasing a skunk, they tend to get sprayed in the face. A direct hit to the mouth can cause salivation and possibly mouth ulcers, but no permanent health issues. If the spray gets in the eyes, it can cause tearing and possibly superficial ulcerations, but again, no permanent damage.

However, pets, particularly large dogs, can smell horrible for a long time—and the smell will come back if they get wet. The odor is not harmful, and owners can use a homemade concoction to get rid of it. Mix together one quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, one-quarter cup of baking soda and one to two teaspoons of liquid dishwashing soap. Lather the fur with this solution and let it sit for five minutes; then rinse and repeat if needed. The solution needs to be prepared right before use, and be aware that it can bleach fabrics. It is potentially flammable, so avoid candles or smoking. Commercial products also work well.

A more major concern is that skunks have been known to carry rabies. It’s actually the sign of a healthy skunk to be able to spray a potential predator, so if skunking occurs at night or at dawn, it’s exceedingly unlikely that the animal is rabid. Nonetheless, always check with your veterinarian after a pet has been sprayed to determine whether a rabies vaccination booster is in order.

Because of the volume of inquiries, we cannot respond to all submissions. For any pet health issue, owners should contact their veterinarian.

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