Skunks are members of the Mustelidae family. They are native to North and South America and are related to such critters as ferrets, badgers, and otters. Almost all members of the Mustelidae family 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 are 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, volatile (meaning readily becoming a gas) compounds that are called thiols, or thioacetates. Thioacetates, while less smell than thiols, are readily converted into thiols when they mixed with water. Thiols also have the ability to bind quickly and strongly to skin proteins. When a skunk is scared, they can and will spray this liquid directly into whatever is pursuing them.
What Can You Do for Your Skunked Cat?
If your cat gets skunk spray in their 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. 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 an 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.
If your cat seems to have gotten away from their 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.
You may also need to repeat this step 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 you 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. You can also toss mothballs underneath as they won't appreciate to odor and will den elsewhere. Skunks love to eat grubs, in addition to mice and voles, so using a grub killer will prevent skunks from tearing up your lawn in the middle of the night in search of dinner. It should be noted, however, that grub killers aren't activated until they have been watered into the soil. However, once the lawn dries, it is safe for you pets and family to be on.
Knowing the steps you can take if your cat has a not-so-nice encounter with one can be the difference in something that you can laugh about later and something that can really put a damper on how your day is going.