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Health Fusion: Sprayed by a skunk? Skip the tomato juice

When winter thaws and spring sets in, skunks and other critters come out to explore their world. If you or your dog encounters a skunk and becomes a spray target, the odor can make you tear up and get nauseous. In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams looks into why skunk spray is so awful and she offers tips on how to get rid of it.

Veterinarians recommend using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap for pets who have been sprayed by a skunk.(Dreamstime/TNS)
What to do if a skunk sprays you (or your pet).
Dreamstime / TNS
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ROCHESTER — Spring is full of wonderful smells that signal the world is waking up from the grips of winter. Blossoms, fresh grass and soggy soil are all welcomed aromas.

And then there's that not-so-nice odor encountered by some people and many dogs while outside enjoying the warming weather. Skunk spray.

Unfortunately, I'm a bit too familiar with skunk smells. Jeb, one of our curious black Labrador retrievers, has met up with a lot of them. In my many panics to get rid of the noxious odor, I've tried a bunch of remedies. Some didn't work at all, others fooled me into thinking they worked (they didn't) and one worked pretty well.

One time the smell was so horrendous that I made my dog and husband (who was also in the line of fire) sleep outside on the porch. We laugh about that now. At least, I do ...

Before I share my favorite remedy for ridding dog hair of a skunk's chemical warfare, I'll relay the American Chemical Society's explanation of why skunk spray is so awful and their suggestion as to how to get rid of it.

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The society says that skunk spray is made up of chemicals, including sulfur- containing organic compounds called thiols. These particles can spread quickly into the air and into your nose. They say skunk spray also contains thioacetate, which is a little sneakier because the particles allow the nasty smell to last for days. They hang out innocently until coming in contact with water, which causes a chemical reaction that turns them into thiols — sort of like an extended-release capsule. The process means that the odor can last for days on end. Not nice.

The American Chemical Society notes that the go-to remedy for many people — tomato juice — doesn't work. I agree, after having tried the stuff a few times, unsuccessfully. The juice simply masks the odor, which your nose starts to become numb to over time. Instead, they recommend a remedy that changes the chemicals in skunk spray, making the odor disappear. It's about oxidation. Here's their recipe:

  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp baby shampoo
  • 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide

Mix the ingredients together, pour on your puppy and lather it up, let the mixture sit for 5 minutes and then rinse. Repeat, if necessary. Avoid the eyes.
The society warns that their antidote is for pets only, not humans. If you get sprayed, they suggest soaping up in the shower until the smell dissipates.

I also checked in with veterinarians at Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. They say nothing is guaranteed to completely rid an animal of skunk smell in one try. But they do suggest that pet owners use a similar recipe as listed above for smelly dogs in general. Instead of baby shampoo, they substitute 1 to 2 teaspoons of mild dish soap. Note that the American Kennel Club's website also recommends this recipe.

The recipe I've found that works emerged when I failed to have 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand in a skunk spray emergency. Also, I was a little leery about using it for fear of getting it into my dog's eyes and turning my black lab into a yellow lab (don't get me wrong, I love all dogs with all colors of hair). And BTW, my recipe is quite exciting, because it can be a bit explosive (try at your own risk).

I use:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp dish soap
  • 1 cup vinegar

Put the baking soda in a bucket, add the water, soap and vinegar (If you want drama and volcanic overflow, you can slowly add the vinegar to the baking soda as Step 2). Mix together, lather your pet (avoiding eyes), let it sit for 5 minutes and rinse. Repeat if necessary.
Good luck!

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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MORE HEALTH FUSION:
When arctic blasts plummet temperatures, stepping outside can be dangerous. In this Health Fusion episode, Viv Williams talks to a researcher about what intensely cold air could do to anyone's lungs.

Related Topics: HEALTH FUSIONPETS
Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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