What to Do If a Pet Is Sprayed in the Eyes by a Skunk

Three baby skunks on grass

Bill McMullen / Getty Images

Skunks are usually happy to mind their own business as they forage for food in the hours around dusk and dawn. Startle a skunk, however, and they may launch an offensive odor. 

Getting rid of the skunk smell is one thing, but what if your dogs is sprayed in the eyes by a skunk?

What is skunk spray and where does it come from?

The fluid is a mixture of seven volatile compounds — consisting of thiols, thioacetates, and a methylquinoline. The thiols are the big contributors to the repellant odor, while the thioacetates help to make the smell last a long time — especially when water is added, which is why pets continue to smell even after a traditional bath.

Skunks have a pair of specialized sacs located in their anus; each sac is connected to the outside by a small duct that opens just inside the anus. The sacs are merely pouches that store an extremely foul-smelling secretion produced by glands that line the sacs.

Skunks are docile but will defend themselves when threatened. If a skunk feels threatened, they will give a warning which includes hissing, stomping of feet, and elevation of the tail.  Failure to heed the warning signs will result in the unlucky aggressor being sprayed with the skunk’s anal gland secretions.  Skunks are highly accurate in their aim and can spray 7 to 15 feet away!

What Effects Does Skunk Spray Have on Dogs?

The effects can be oral, ocular (eyes), dermal (skin), and respiratory. Dermal absorption of the spray is minimal. The severity of signs may depend on a pet's proximity to a skunk when being sprayed and the area of exposure (face vs. legs or side). If an animal is sprayed directly in the face, inhalation can occur. 

The chemicals in skunk spray irritate and, if inhaled, can inflame the lining of the nose, throat and lungs. If your dog swallowed some of the oils, vomiting may be an issue.

Ocular swelling and redness, drooling, and squinting are commonly noted in animals that have been sprayed. Many dogs will rub their faces, roll, sneeze, and vomit. Temporary blindness may occur. Other symptoms can include chemical conjunctivitis and corneal damage. 

A more severe reaction can occur but is very rare. The thiol components can cause oxidative damage to red blood cells. The result is the destruction of red blood cells leading to anemia, but only a few cases have been reported in the literature and ASPCA toxicology database. 

What to Do If a Pet Is Sprayed in the Eyes by a Skunk

Animals, like humans, reflexively blink or close their eyes when something is coming at them, but it’s not uncommon for a dog to surprise a skunk with their noses which can result in a dog’s face and eyes being sprayed. 

This can cause irritation and pain to your dog’s eyes as mentioned above. If this happens, you will want to immediately flush your dog's eyes out. To clean your dog’s eyes, flush each eye several times with a properly formulated eye wash for dogs for 10-15 minutes. You do not want to use a contact lens solution or visine to flush your dog’s eyes. 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. Prevent your pet from pawing and rubbing their eyes to reduce the chance of secondary trauma. 

When flushing your dogs eyes, you should approach your dog from the side and have a handful of treats to help make this uncomfortable situation more tolerable for your dog.

You should also use paper towels to help absorb the excess oil on the face and coat. The secretion itself is a yellow oil that will cling to most surfaces that contacts; like all oils, it does not mix with water. Be careful not to spread the oils from one part of the dog to another. Only wipe where the oils are already to avoid making the problem worse.

When bathing your dog, you should avoid getting the solution in your dog’s eyes, ears, or mouth. Prior to the bath, you can apply a small strip of eye lubricant, such as optixcare to your dog’s eyes to help protect the eyes in case any of the solution splashes or drips in them. You can use a damp washcloth rinsed with luke warm water to wipe face if needed after dabbing excess oils with paper towels and flushing eyes.

Although, this situation is no fun for both you and your dog, it’s important to stay calm. Your dog will most likely be disorientated and may be scared and if you are panicking, it will just escalate your dog’s fear and stress. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself how difficult this is for your dog.  

If, after you've rinsed, the dog has red eyes and/or is squinting or pawing at the eyes, contact your veterinarian. 

Article Sources
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  1. De-SkunkingVillage Veterinary Practice

  2. My Dog Was Sprayed By A Skunk—Now What?Texas A&M UniversityCollege of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences