Skunks produce an oily liquid that is yellow in color and produced by glands in the anal region. The skunks glands produce the liquid, which is stored in 2 sacs that each have a duct that exits at the 4 and 8 o’clock position around the anal opening. Dogs and cats have similar structures. Dogs and cats produce less pungent material that is thought to be used for marking territory, while skunks use their’s for defensive purposes. Each sac can hold about 1 teaspoon of liquid, which is enough for multiple sprays. The oily liquid is made up of multiple ingredients, most of which are sulfur-containing thiols that give the liquid its potent smell. It is thought that people can smell the liquid at concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion. As a result, it can be very difficult to completely remove skunk odor from a pet that has been sprayed by a skunk. If the animal is harmed in anyway during the encounter with a skunk, you should seek veterinary care.
Paul Krebaum’s home remedy for removal of skunk odor.
Tomato juice (with or without vinegar) used to be commonly advised to remove skunk odor, but it is relatively ineffective. The most common home remedy recommended for removal of skunk odor was developed by a chemist, Paul Krebaum. It involves a mixture of the following:
- 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (usually sold in pints, so 2 bottles needed)
- ¼ cup baking soda (Arm and Hammer is the most common brand)
- 1-2 tsp liquid hand soap (preferred brands are “Softsoap” and “Ivory Liquid”)
The ingredients should be mixed in an open plastic container with plastic utensils and then used immediately. An open container is important due to the amount of gas produced; while plastic is preferred as metal will encourage decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide. The solution can be diluted with 1 quart of lukewarm water for larger pets to help cover a wider area. The solution is placed on the animal while avoiding any exposure to the eyes, ears and mouth. A small strip of eye lubricant or few drops of mineral oil can be placed in the eye for protection. The solution should remain for at least five minutes prior to washing it off and can be repeated as necessary. Use of latex or rubber gloves and old clothing is recommended.
Paul Krebaum’s recipe works by focusing on the chemical nature of the thiols that create the skunk smell. Thiols are not water soluble even with soap. The soap serves to keep the coat wet and get the oily skunk spray into solution where it can react with the other ingredients. The baking soda facilitates the ability of hydrogen peroxide to alter the thiol through oxidation into a water-soluble form as a sulfonate for easy removal.
Commercial remedies for removal of skunk odor
If you are not inclined to try a home remedy for the skunk smell, numerous commercial products exist on the market that have had variable results. Nature’s Miracle skunk remover is one option. This product is thought to work by enzymatic breakdown of the thiols and works best when massaged into a dry coat and left for hours while it dries. Odor-Mute and Earth Friendly Products skunk odor remover are other products that are designed to work by enzymatic breakdown of the thiols. Skunk Off is another product for skunk odor remover that uses various non-enzymatic methods for odor control as described on the website.
There are a number of professional products that are available, that are better applied for environmental control in difficult situations. Products include Neutroleum Alpha, Freshwave, Epoleon and Nisus Bac-Azap. Information regarding these products and additional information regarding removal of skunk odor can be found through the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
By Dr Stephen Atwater