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Cat Sprayed by a Skunk? Here’s What to Do!

skunk in grass

If you’ve ever been on a backroad late at night, you’ve probably smelled the unmistakable scent of a skunk. The pungent odor overtakes everything in its path. Unfortunately, your cat might be in that path sometimes. If you live in an area where skunks are endemic, it’s a good idea to know what to do if your cat gets skunked. Even if your cat is fully indoor, there’s always a chance that they’ll slip out an open door or window, so it’s best to be prepared. Here’s what to do if your cat has been sprayed by a skunk.divider-cat

Give Your Cat a Thorough Exam

Woman checking out a stray cat
Image Credit: sandryriveraa, Pixabay

If your cat saunters in smelling like a skunk, the first thing you need to do is give your cat a thorough check over. This is unpleasant due to the stench, and it’s a good idea to wear thick gloves to keep the smell off of your hands. Skunks are generally harmless, peaceful animals. Since their scent is their primary form of protection, they rarely need to do more. However, skunks do have claws and teeth, and they know how to use them. If your cat has been skunked, you need to check it over thoroughly to ensure there are no bites or scratches.

Beware of Infections

Sometimes, bites and scratches can be difficult to spot on our furry friends, so it’s important to keep an eye on things for a few days after the skunk incident. It’s possible for these wounds to become infected and form abscesses or systemic infections. It’s also possible for a skunk to transmit rabies to your cat via a bite or scratch.

Rabies in Skunks

Skunks are one of the primary carriers of rabies in North America, so there is always a chance that a wild skunk you encounter may have rabies. Typically, the best course of action is to leave the skunk alone and give it space. If your cat has been in contact with a skunk, though, then you need to talk to your vet. They may want to see your cat for a checkup, especially if your cat is not current on its rabies vaccine. Rabies is an extremely deadly virus that is transmissible to humans, so it’s important to keep your cat up to date on its rabies vaccine, even if it’s a fully indoor cat. Rabies vaccines should only be administered by a veterinarian so you can be sure the vaccine is stored and administered properly.

Talk to Your Vet

Cat checked by Vet
Image Credit: Stock Asso, Shutterstock

Not only can skunk spray be irritating to the eyes and mucus membranes, it has caustic properties, which means it can actually burn the skin. If inhaled, it can leave burns in the airway and lungs, so it’s important to talk to your vet if you suspect your cat may be having any respiratory changes after a skunk encounter. The other serious issue that skunk spray can lead to is anemia. This is a rare side effect of exposure to skunk spray, but it does occur in both cats and dogs. This anemia can lead to difficulty breathing, lethargy, and loss of appetite. If you notice these symptoms or notice that your cat’s gums begin to look pale within days of the skunk exposure, then you need to talk to your vet and they will likely want to see your cat for a full exam.

divider-catTime for a Bath

Girl washes cat in the bath
Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

There are all kinds of things you can try to remove skunk smell, but the primary purpose of all of them is to neutralize the smell. You may hear people recommend dousing your cat in tomato juice, but this old standby is not effective at removing the skunk smell. It tends to do little more than mask the smell, leaving your cat smelling like a tomato-flavored skunk.

Cat Bathing Tips

  • The first thing you should do if your cat has been skunked is to gently clean your cat’s face and eyes. Use cool water on a soft rag or plain saline eye solution to clean the area. If you’re unsure if the saline solution you have is safe for your cat, just stick to cool water. This cleaning method isn’t going to remove all the smell or oils from the face, but it will soothe your cat’s irritated eyes and mucus membranes and prevent further irritation from occurring. If you have artificial tears, these can help soothe your cat’s eyes further.
  • As for thoroughly cleaning the rest of your cat, your best bet is to use a commercial skunk odor remover. These are usually sold at pet stores and farm supply stores and are formulated specifically to neutralize the skunk odor while still being safe for pets. These products usually aren’t recommended to use around the eyes, though. You may even be able to get skunk odor remover shampoo or a “homemade” skunk odor remover mixture from your veterinarian.
  • In lieu of a commercial skunk odor remover, you can make your own shampoo at home. You should not mix these ingredients together in a closed bottle, so it’s a good idea to find a bucket to use or to mix it in a sink or bathtub. Combine 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dish soap. The blue Dawn dish soap is generally recommended because it is mild and gentle on the skin. Mixing baking soda and hydrogen peroxide together will result in a chemical reaction, which is why this mixture should be made in an open container. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an exploding mess. A simpler but less effective alternative to this is to wash your cat with diluted apple cider vinegar.
  • Using the skunk odor remover or your homemade shampoo mixture, gently bathe your cat. Don’t allow the mixture to soak on the coat and skin for more than a couple of minutes as it can be drying and irritating if left on. If needed, you can rinse and repeat multiple times instead of leaving the solution sitting on your cat’s coat. Bathing your cat with this solution is ideal, but for uncooperative kitties, you may just have to do a sponge bath, wiping with a clean, damp washcloth between sessions. You may have to repeat the bath multiple days in a row to fully eliminate the smell.

Why Do Skunks Stink?

skunk in rocks
Image Credit: sipa, Pixabay

Like dogs and cats, skunks have anal glands. These glands are small sacs located on either side of the interior of the rectum. In dogs and cats, you may notice a fishy smell if they express their anal glands. Skunks, on the other hand, excrete an oily substance that contains thiols, which are sulfuric compounds that also account for the rotten egg smell associated with sulfur. The oiliness of the spray makes it difficult to clean off, which means that an animal that has been sprayed in the face may have a difficult time getting rid of the smell on its own. It can also lead to irritation of the eyes and mucus membranes.

How to Avoid Skunks

Skunks are primarily crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They are also nocturnal, so they will be out and about throughout much of the nighttime hours, but you are most likely to have a skunk encounter at dawn or dusk. Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to avoid interactions with skunks. If your cat does go outside, it’s best to only allow your cat outside during daylight hours.

Although you are most likely to encounter a skunk outside of daylight hours, a skunk interaction is sometimes unavoidable. Sick, injured, and orphaned skunks may be out during the daytime. If you spot a skunk out during the daytime, you should contact your local animal control or game and fish commission so they can capture and evaluate the skunk and ensure it doesn’t need assistance.divider-cat

In Conclusion

Avoiding skunks and keeping your cat indoors is the best way to avoid skunk interactions. However, it’s good practice to be prepared just in case a skunk incident does occur. Cats are naturally curious and some may even see a skunk as a threat, so it’s not uncommon for cats to be skunked, although it does occur less commonly in cats than it does in dogs. When it comes to removing the skunk smell from your cat, your best resource will always be your veterinarian. Commercial skunk odor removers are a great option, but when that isn’t available, you can make your own mixture at home with simple ingredients you can pick up at the drug store.


Featured Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock

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