Quick primer: de-skunking your dog

05/25/2013 7:44 AM

05/25/2013 7:45 AM

One would think that over tens of thousands of years of evolution, dogs would have learned to avoid skunks. But they haven’t, and every year countless dogs get skunked.

Don’t snicker, you cat owners. It happens to felines, too.

A trip to the vet usually isn’t necessary. But quick action is; that smell settles in over time, and it won’t dissipate overnight. So here’s a quick primer on de-skunking your pet.

The skunk smell comes from a chemical compound called a thiol. William F. Wood of the department of chemistry at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., wrote that skunk spray is composed of seven major components, two of them thiols responsible for most of the stink. Thiols are oily, which explains why you can’t just hose off your pet and go about your life. It takes effort to get rid of this.

If your pet gets skunked, you need to do two things. First, give the pet a thorough going-over. Make sure it didn’t get squirted in the eyes, nose or mouth, which can cause irritation and inflammation, says Kate Spencer, spokeswoman for the American Animal Hospital Association. If it got sprayed in the face, call your vet. Also make sure it’s nothing more than a spray-and-run encounter. Skunks are frequent carriers of rabies. If there was a physical tiff with biting involved, again, check with your vet.

The second thing you need to do is close your door. Keep your pet outside so it doesn’t bring the smell inside.

Plain soap and water won’t do it; you need something to cut the chemical compounds. There are several home remedies, and thanks to the “MythBusters” show on Discovery Channel, we know most of them don’t work. The show tested five: beer, tomato paste, a feminine hygiene product, a commercial skunk remover and a solution developed 20 years ago by an Illinois chemist. The last of the five worked best.

Paul Krebaum published his solution in Chemical & Engineering News in 1993, and it was republished in Popular Science in 2007. His recipe: Combine 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid hand soap (not detergent). Bathe your pet in the solution (be careful to avoid getting it in the eyes) and rinse thoroughly with warm water. Repeat if necessary.

Why does it work? Thiols aren’t water-soluble, but the baking soda and peroxide react to turn thiols into highly water-soluble compounds that get washed away.

Spencer says that commercial products, available at pet stores or from your veterinarian, also work. And if your pet has long hair or matted fur, you may need to do a little hair trimming to eliminate some residual odor.

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