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Published: Oct 30, 2012

This scenario can be a nightmare for pet owners: You hear your cat or dog come running into the house, accompanied by an overwhelming stench - skunk. Canines and felines are naturally curious animals, which is what may cause them to investigate one of these striped creatures a bit too closely, and end up coated in a stinky odor that can be very difficult to get rid of. Planning ahead for this incident will make life a lot easier if and when a skunk does strike, so here are some tips from VCA Animal Hospitals.

Understanding skunk spray
Skunks spray their odorous liquid when they feel threatened. Their white stripe makes them easy to distinguish, and most animals in the wild will know to avoid them. But dogs and cats who haven't encountered one before may not be able to interpret this warning sign, and get too close. Skunks can shoot their spray several feet, so it may be that your pet didn't even get all that near to a skunk. The spray itself is an oil that clings well to surfaces, proteins and skin, making it difficult to get rid of.

Will it harm my pet?
While it's likely an unpleasant experience for both you and your pet, the spray itself shouldn't cause any pain in dogs or cats. However, it can be dangerous if it gets in the eyes and mouth. If it does seem that your animal companion is having a negative reaction to the spray, then you should bring him to one of the nearby veterinarians for a professional opinion.

How can I prevent a skunk incident?
Skunks become less active in winter, which means chances of your pet having a run in with one of these creatures are higher during warm weather months. They are most active in the early mornings or just before sunset, but they have been known to appear during other times of the day and night.

Leaving your dog or cat's food outside can often draw these creatures, so if possible, keep food bowls inside. They can also be attracted to insects or grubs in your lawn, compost heaps or even easy-to-access trash bins, so be wary of these issues.

My pet has been sprayed. What can I do?
If your cat or dog has been sprayed, your first order of business should be to find a way to break down the oils in the spray, thus neutralizing the odor. You may have heard that tomato juice or vinegar works effectively, but VCA says this is an old wive's tale, and only makes a big mess.

Instead, look for products on the market that have been developed by scientists to neutralize skunk spray. If your pet was sprayed in the early morning or late at night, this may not be an option, in which case you may have to resort to a homemade recipe. These usually involve a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish washing detergent.