How Do I Get Rid of Skunk Smell on My Dog?

If your dog has a backyard run-in with a skunk, neutralize the odor through oxidation. It's easier than you think. . Sandra Huber/Shutterstock

Spring is in the air, which means more animals may be traipsing through your backyard — and not all of them may be welcome. Take a skunk, for instance. If your pup happens to be outside when it’s nearby and mistakes said skunk for a squirrel, it could find itself the recipient of a stinky spray that can’t be rinsed off easily.

It is said that skunks developed their stinky spray because they are nocturnal and are prone to surprise attacks from predators. And that spray is powerful stuff. Skunks can spray up to 10 feet out of their anal glands. The spray can be extremely irritating and can even cause temporary blindness. People can often detect it from up to a mile away, meaning you don’t have to be anywhere near Pepe le Pew to suffer the consequences.

If you don't take steps to remove the smell from your dog right away, it can linger for up to a year, according to PetMD.

When Rexy doesn't smell so sexy

White dog taking a bath outside
Skunk spray is powerful stuff, and humans can often detect from up to a mile away. ANURAK PONGPATIMET/Shutterstock

You may have heard that bathing in tomato juice will do the trick, but unfortunately, that won’t do much besides mask the smell. The strong scent of tomato juice tricks your nose into thinking you can’t smell skunk any more. But if another person were to enter the room, he or she would still smell the stink.

So what does work? To find out, we have to explore what makes that stinky smell in the first place:

The reason a skunk spray smells so bad is due to a group of chemical compounds known as thiols. From How Stuff Works:

These compounds are characterized by their attached sulfur and hydrogen atom and are notorious for a strong smell. Two highly volatile thiols, (E)-2 butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol, are the main components responsible for the characteristic odor of skunk spray.

To neutralize the odor, you must change the thiols into compounds that don’t smell as bad. The way to do this is by oxidation — adding oxygen, which will produce odorless sulfonic acid.

In layman’s terms, try this recipe from William F. Wood, a chemist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California: Mix 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of liquid detergent, and give your dog a bath with this mixture.

Pet MD says dogs often are sprayed by a skunk in the face, so start by washing away spray residue in his eyes, nose and mouth with cool water. Then use the mixture to create a lather on your pup’s fur. After five minutes, rinse him off and give him a sniff test. You may need to repeat the process a few times.

This mixture can also slightly lighten your dog’s hair color, so be forewarned. Also, you’ll need to make a new mixture for next time, as you can’t store it for the future.

But there you have it: A simple fix to a common quandary.