Skunks are native to North and South America and are related to such critters as badgers, and otters. Many closely related species are able to create their very own, pungent, musky odor in their scent glands but skunks are the only ones with the ability to forcefully spray it up to 15 feet.
Cat owners may unfortunately become aware of the discomfort and inconvenience of a skunk spray situation. It may surprise some people to hear that cats also get sprayed by skunks from time to time. The debate on whether or not cats should be allowed to roam outside or not can get pretty heated in some circles and I won't get into the detailed pros and cons of either side in this article.
However, if you allow your cat to roam outdoors, you should stay aware of things that your cat may encounter that an indoor-only cat would not, and that includes skunks.
What Is Skunk Spray?
Skunk spray is produced in the anal glands of the skunk and used for self-defense. It is a yellow oil composed of several different compounds including thiols. Thiols have the ability to bind quickly and strongly to skin proteins and have a "rotten egg" odor that also causes irritation to the eyes and lungs. When a skunk is scared, they can and will spray this liquid directly at whatever is pursuing them.
What Can You Do for Your Skunked Cat?
If your cat gets skunk spray in or near its eyes they may become red and irritated. If this happens you will want to immediately flush your cat's eyes out. There are different products available on the market that are safe to use in this way but the best option is an over-the-counter sterile eye wash. If you live in an area where skunks are common, it wouldn't hurt to keep some on hand. If skunk spray gets in your cat's mouth or nose, you may also see such signs as drooling, vomiting, nausea, or sneezing. Skunk spray can also, in rarer cases, cause serious and acute anemia in cats. If you are seeing any symptoms of spray in your cat's eyes, mouth, or nose, take your cat to the vet immediately. It is also important to keep in mind that skunks, like many wild mammals, can carry infectious diseases including rabies. You should always make sure your cat is up-to-date on vaccines and contact your vet if you suspect there was a physical encounter in addition to the spray.
If your cat seems to have gotten away from its skunk encounter with just a noxious smell you will still want to get rid of the smell. In years past, homemade tomato juice-based recipes were the remedy of choice, but the results weren't always the greatest.
Instead of tomato juice, the most effective homemade remedy to de-skunk your cat, after consulting a veterinarian, is to make a solution of one quart of three percent hydrogen peroxide, one quarter cup baking soda, and one to two teaspoons of liquid hand soap. You will want to wear rubber gloves as you work this solution into your cat's coat before rinsing him thoroughly. It's important to not leave the solution on too long, as the peroxide may bleach your cat's fur after prolonged exposure. You also want to be sure to use only three percent hydrogen peroxide and not anything stronger as it can be more irritating to your cat's skin. Make sure to keep this solution away from your cat's eyes as it can sting and cause irritation to the corneas. You also need to throw the solution out after a few hours as it can explode if left sitting for too long.
You may need to repeat this bath if your cat is particularly smelly. If the idea of bathing your cat has you reconsidering just how noxious the smell is, you can try doing a sponge bath type of treatment. Instead of completely dousing your cat with water, use a wet washrag to dampen their fur and then again to work the solution in. Once you are ready to rinse, use a fresh wet rag to wipe the solution out of your cat's fur. If there is only one area of your cat's fur that got sprayed, feel free to only wash that area.
If any skunk smell gets on you during any part of this process you will want to wash your clothes in regular laundry detergent and ½ C of baking soda.
Can I Do Anything to Skunk-Proof My Yard?
There are measures you can take to make your yard less attractive to a skunk. Securely seal your outside trash receptacle to prevent a skunk from getting into your garbage. If you feed your cat outdoors, pick up the food and water bowls at night. If you have a porch or shed, a skunk might find the area underneath those structures desirable for a den. You can block access by tacking chicken wire all around or laying bricks all around.
Knowing the steps you can take if your cat has a not-so-nice encounter with one can be the difference between something that you can laugh about later and something that can really put a damper on how your day is going.