Anyone who has ever had their dog sprayed by a skunk can attest to how precariously pungent the smell is, and how frustratingly difficult it is to eradicate the smell from your pet, your skin, inside your home, and literally anything else that comes into close enough contact. To make matters worse, unexpected run-ins with skunks often happen during the least convenient times of day, like early in the morning or late in the evening.
This time of year, skunks become more active as the weather shifts in favour of warmer temperatures. Skunks do not fully hibernate, however they are mostly inactive during the coldest months of the year. These small, cat-sized mammals typically start to come out of their communal dens in early March, however they can become active as early as mid-February. This also happens to be breeding season, and many female skunks will be preparing for litters of up to ten babies to arrive by mid-April.
While ‘skunking’ (spraying) is a commonly known threat response from this species, skunks are also a frequent carrier of rabies. As pet owners, it’s important to understand how to avoid skunks, and also what to do if your pet comes into contact with one.
As skunks become familiar with their spring surroundings, they’ll be taking up residence in local forests, parks, backyards, and more. Their favourite places to hunker down include (but are not limited to): underneath porches and sheds, dense areas of brush, and even woodpiles.
As soon as the snow melts, it’s a good idea to skunk-proof your yard to keep these curious critters out. It is far easier to keep a skunk out of any given space than to remove a skunk that is already there – especially if they have babies. For example, chicken wire is an effective way to close off openings at the base of buildings and structures that would otherwise make for attractive homes. As you survey your surroundings, be sure to check regularly for signs of digging and scratching in these key areas, as it may be a sign you have new guests.
If you believe there is a skunk den on your property, look for evidence such as droppings, tracks, fur, and even a musky smell. In the event you need to relocate a skunk, it is highly advised to seek a qualified professional for removal. This will ensure the skunk is removed and relocated in a safe and humane manner.
Skunks are nocturnal, and are most active at night. To reduce the risk of an unwanted altercation with a skunk, consider avoiding walks after dark, especially in areas that are more likely to have skunk activity. Even letting your dog out for an evening bathroom break in your backyard can be risky, so be sure to check your surroundings before letting your pooch off-leash.
Unfortunately, getting sprayed by a skunk is sometimes unavoidable – so be prepared!
It’s wise to keep a good quality skunk-eliminating shampoo on hand, as you’ll be very thankful to have it when needed. If your pooch is sprayed by a skunk, follow these simple steps as quickly as possible:
- Check your dog’s eyes for irritation. Skunk spray in the eyes can be very painful and needs to be flushed with cool water immediately.
- Keep your dog away from furniture and other parts of your house if possible, and bathe them with a skunk-specific shampoo right away. The sooner you remove the repulsive sulfur-based skunk oils from your dog’s fur, the better. Choose an outdoor space to bathe your pooch if you can.
- Wearing rubber gloves, gently and thoroughly massage the de-skunking shampoo into your dog’s fur. Let it sit, then rinse and repeat as necessary.
- If you don’t have a skunk shampoo on hand, you can combine ½ quart hydrogen peroxide, ⅛ cup baking soda, and 1 tsp liquid dishwashing soap in an open container.
- Towel dry your dog with an old towel that you aren’t keen on keeping, just in case.
- Be prepared to follow this process more than once, as skunk smell can be difficult to remove. A professional grade de-skunking shampoo is your best defence.
While these remedies are highly effective in removing and neutralizing skunk odour from fur, nothing will completely remove the odour that is coming from the skin. Skunk oil is easily absorbed into skin, and the only thing you can do is wait for it to dissipate on its own.
When it comes to skunks, the best practice is being proactive instead of reactive. Keep your property secure from skunks ahead of time, have a high quality skunk shampoo at the ready, and always check your surroundings.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.