Downeast Dog News

Skunk Toxicity

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Apr 01, 2020

Q. My sister’s dog got skunked the other day. He ended up in the hospital for a few days and was very sick. I didn’t know a dog could get that sick from being skunked. What happened?

A. Being a rural state it is very common for our dogs to get sprayed by a skunk. Most of the time all is fine accept for the smell. Sometimes the spray is so intense and so close the dog gets a toxic dose of the spray.

Skunks are generally easy going. They used to be sold as pets many years ago. If they are threatened, they will posture by hissing, stomping their feet and lifting their tail as a warning. If the dog doesn’t listen to these social cues, the skunk will spray secretions from his anal glands. Skunks are very accurate with their aim, and the spray can go 7 to 15 feet.

The anal gland secretions are made up of 7 volatile chemicals. Volatile chemicals evaporate quickly. Two of the chemicals are responsible for the immediate bad odor and make up 51% to 70% of the secretions called thiols. Four of the chemicals don’t initially add to the odor until they are mixed with water. When mixed with water, they change to thiols. This may explain why the dog still has the skunk smell after a bath or when the fur gets damp. The seventh chemical is an alkaloid, which isn’t as volatile as the six other chemicals.

The common symptoms from skunk spray are swelling around the eyes, conjunctivitis, drooling, and squinting. Rubbing faces, rolling, sneezing, vomiting, and temporary blindness may also occur. The symptoms that occur depend on where the dog catches the spray, in the mouth, on the skin, in the eyes, or breathing it in. If the dog is sprayed on his side or legs, the symptoms are minor. Dogs sprayed directly in the face can inhale the spray.

In rare cases, the inhaled thiols in the spray can damage the red blood cells causing an anemia. This can occur in a few hours to 24 hours after being sprayed. The damage to red blood cells is the same as if the dog ate a toxic amount of onions, garlic, acetaminophen, benzocaine, moth balls, and zinc.

Better than tomato juice or vinegar, the treatment from being skunked is first bathing the dog to decontaminate the skin. The chemicals in the skunk spray are not water-soluble, even with soap. A baking soda and peroxide mixture will change the chemicals into being water-soluble. Be sure to bathe the dog outside, so you don’t contaminate your house. There is a product called Tecnu found at your pharmacy in the first aid aisle. It is a poison ivy treatment. You pour Tecnu on a cloth and wipe down the dog’s coat to break down the chemicals. Follow this with a bath. If eyes have been exposed, flush the dog’s eyes with tepid water.

When your dog receives a heavy spray or multiple exposures, go to your veterinarian to obtain baseline blood work. The dog needs to be monitored for the next 72 hours either in the hospital or at home. Watch your dog’s mucous membranes for change of color and breathing changes. If any symptoms are present, your dog will be hospitalized for treatment. The treatment will be I/V fluids, a possible blood transfusion, and a medicine, N-Acetyecysteine, will be given for several treatments.


I mentioned a baking soda and peroxide mixture. Here is the formula.

Krebaum skunk odor removal formula (Krebaum P. Skunk odor removal. Chem Engineer News 1993;Oct 18:99.)

1quart fresh 3% hydrogen peroxide

1/4 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

1-2 tsp. of liquid dishwashing detergent

For large dogs, add one quart of tepid water to ensure complete coverage.


Mix all ingredients together

Bathe the dog outdoors. Apply the formula to the pet, working deeply into the fur, and allow it to set for five minutes.

Rinse with copious amount of water after five minutes.

Repeat if necessary.


The mixture must be used promptly and will not work if stored for any length of time.

Do not store in a closed container. The container could break as the peroxide releases oxygen.

The pet's fur (as well as clothing, towels, and carpeting) may be bleached by the formula.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME