Dog D-Skunking 101
May 18, 2021
You let your dog out to go to the bathroom in the dark of night. You hear a small commotion from the yard, and they come streaking back to your door, full throttle and wide-eyed.
You usher them in and WHAM-O! PEEEEYOOO!!
They’ve tangled with a skunk!
What do you do!?!?!
The first thing is to corral your dog, but to also try not to panic.
After an encounter like this, unless your dog is a true hunter, they are going to be completely freaked out and will immediately pick up on your energy and endorphin signature which comes out in your sweat and breath. This will make their anxiety even worse and possibly cause them to be more in a state of fight or flight. Staying calm and doing what needs to be done in these few initial steps are very important to get right.
In my opinion every single pet owner needs to have a deskunking rinse or shampoo on hand at all times if they live in the country. Sometimes even dogs in town can encounter a skunk if they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If you aren’t prepared and don’t have a specific product on hand, then I suggest you take a look at this recipe which is safest for odor control but will not dry out the skin and hair coat as badly as some other concoctions, while being made up of a lot of the normal things you might have around the house.
I urge you though- if you don’t have all of these things on hand in the proper proportions- to not just concoct something. If you’re short on supply in order to complete such a recipe, then I recommend you head to town instead and just pick up a deskunking product to be most safe.
As a professional Pet Groomer versed in canine skin and coat, the recipe I’m about to share I must advise can be quite drying to skin and hair coat so it is incredibly important that you follow up as soon as possible with a professional grooming where your stylist uses a moisturizing protein-based shampoo and a high-quality remoisturizing conditioner in order to avoid secondary skin dryness and itching or coat breakage.
But if you are in a tight spot and don’t have many options, this is the safest recipe which can be found also on the akc.org website.
- 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
- 1/4 cup of baking soda.
- 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap
You might find that you have to double or triple this recipe per the size and haircoat of your dog, but keep your proportions equal throughout- and mix it well. AND, if you have a quality pet shampoo on hand, you can always follow up with a second or third bath with that to help replace a little bit of skin moisture which will be drastically removed by the chemical action of this homemade formula.
And remember: DO NOT get this in your pet’s eyes or let them lick it at length off of their haircoat.
Part of pet ownership is often running damage control, and part of that is thinking ahead and being prepared for things like this.
Part of being a professional pet groomer is having these products on hand for your clients as well as being able to navigate a skunked dog coming into the salon in a state of emergency or happenstance.
So if this happens and you are able to get in contact with a professional groomer to handle the situation while keeping your pet contained until your appointment time, that is probably in your best interest.
Typically it’s the head, face and neck areas of the dog that always get hit the worst because this is the part of the dog making the closest encounter with a business end of a skunk.
But these areas are also difficult to thoroughly treat due to the sensitivity of the eye tissue and mucous membranes and the fact that most dogs are extremely nauseous and drooling due to having this acrid liquid in their face and so near their nose- which is incredibly sensitive.
Concerning the skin and hair of the face and head, you will need to apply a separate method of cleansing this area and rinsing it to keep the eyes safe.
Once you have corralled your dog in a safe area somewhere inside your home or garage and away from that monstrous skunk so that they feel safe, go and grab your deskunking products and get them ready to go into the tub or laundry basin.
I do not recommend trying to wash your dog in the backyard with cold hose water in the middle of the night; just my professional and empathetic opinion.
If you can get them safely into a laundry sink, shower basin or a bath tub, that is best. Before moving them into a bathroom I recommend removing or moving your shower curtain and bathroom rugs or any other type of fabric material away from the tub onto where he could shake water and soap and skunk odor.
Once he is in the bathing area, **do not pre-wet his coat with water!**
**This part is incredibly important!**
If you wet his coat you are making it very hard for your cleansing product to grab onto the skunk spray sitting on his coat and giving it a chance to ride around on the surface of the water and deposit more deeply into his hair and skin.
Drench him thoroughly with your homemade rinse or cover him thoroughly with your deskunking shampoo. Massage this by hand into the coat and expect that you’re going to get a little wet and a little smelly in the process.
Per the manufacturer guidelines, once the ready to use products are massaged and lathered deeply into the coat, give them the recommended adequate development time in order to fully do their job.
Most enzymatic cleaners of any type need at least a handful of minutes in order to work well. If you’re making this at-home mix in an emergency, allow it about 5 minutes on the coat while lathering it all over.
Thorough saturation of the coat down to the skin as mentioned before is another huge component of getting as much smell out as possible.
After this, you’re going to want to use tap water and thoroughly rinse, rinse, rinse! Until every bit of bubbles are gone from the coat and the coat yields a squeaky clean feeling.
Most of your deskunking cleaners have a very high pH, which is part of what helps them to work as an enzymatic cleaner with the chemical composition of skunk spray, so if you find yourself itching after rinsing your dog, I recommend rinsing your skin well again with cool water. Unless you have a true chemical allergy, you will be just fine. And of course, if you had the presence of mind and the supplies on hand to don cleaning gloves and an old shirt or apron, those tools will always help out.
If you happen to have a pet specific shampoo on hand or even a high-quality human shampoo with a moisturizing additive, I recommend you follow up with an additional bath after the deskunking step to help thoroughly cleanse the coat of dirt and oil and the rinse you applied.
Even after a thorough cleansing bath with just the right products applied to dry coat in adequate amounts and rinsed thoroughly, commonly there will still be a lingering odor on the coat for weeks and sometimes even months. Especially each time the coat gets wet with moisture again.
And why is this?
Let’s delve a little deeper into what happens on a physiological level with skunk spray and how it acts upon canine skin and hair coat.
One part of the reason that skunk odor lingers for so long on your dog is that their body is continuously growing and shedding skin cells and hair coat in regular cycles. As the process of desquamation, or skin cell turnover happens, right along with that comes a bit of that odorous liquid that’s still residing throughout the layers of skin.
Considering this fact of it, it is also the way it permeates the hair shaft and remains within the actively growing haircoat at the time of the encounter which is all still sitting in the follicle cup, right alongside dead hair ready to be lifted out, and new hair still being generated deeper within the follicle- that is all still growing in its typical cycles through the skin.
The fact that this oil permeates deeply and uses sebum to accomplish this, but it also has a far different pH level than the average pH level of a pet’s skin, is also worth consideration.
In its chemical composition (acidic nature and caustic nature), it can penetrate several layers deep into the skin, which will continue to cause the newly emerging hair to still hold odor even after resting growth phases are all shed out.
This prolongs the smell even more.
The individual hair shaft itself holds the odor also, and every time the hair cuticle is lifted with moisture contact, those odor-causing enzymes are reactivated alongside the water. This is obviously part of the reason why it’s so important to try to initially deskunk a *dry coat *without *pre-wetting because of the oil vs. water equation and using the micellar bonds within your shampoo surfactant (cleansing) formulation to encapsulate that oil-based substance as thoroughly as possible so that it can be suspended and more thoroughly rinsed from the coat.
It’s also very important that you have an adequate cleanser not too greatly diluted so that the oil substance from the skunk does not simply ride around in the water and then redeposit in the coat during rinsing when the micellar bonds are broken down again.
So yes, the normal cellular replacement cycles do continue to re-release the odor just as much as the haircoat itself does. And you pick up on this by the very same signature ways that your nose tells you this each time you your pet again becomes damp or wet with moisture.
Add to that that typically dogs get skunked the worst in the head and face and it can be incredibly hard to efficiently apply a de-skunking or cleansing product strong and ample enough in these areas without causing eye or mucus membrane tissue irritation- so a lot of groomers still send dogs home with a slightly smelly head and face, and this is what the owner smells every time they are close to the dog even if the body is more effectively cleansed.
Groomers are trying to keep your pet’s eyes, nose, mouth and ears safe while applying the topical, so there is a possibility that some odor will remain even after a professional grooming.
And obviously, this pungent substance only takes a tiny amount to find objectionable and putrid, LOL!
It only takes once of having to go through trying to deskunk your dog in your bathroom tub in the middle of the night for an owner to have WISHED they had deskunking products on hand, so if you read this blog I suggest you stay ahead of the curve and buy what you need in the event of such an emergency.
- De-skunking Shampoo or Enzymatic Coat Rinse
- Moisturizing Shampoo
- Moisturizing Conditioner
- Plenty of towels, and an effective method of completely rinsing shampoo from your pet’s haircoat.