There is nothing that will bring a grooming client to you more urgently or more desperately than the smell of a client’s pet after it has been sprayed by a skunk. My grooming shop Love Fur Dogs, on the North Shore of Chicagoland, is located in one of the most heavily populated places in the nation for skunks around dogs. We have seen it all!
When talking to clients about skunks, I recommend that you first start with education about how to PREVENT skunk attacks in the first place. Put this on your website, put it in your social media, put it up in a poster or handout in your place of business. Show your clients you care enough about them and their pet’s well-being to give them advance information talk about the risks of a skunk attack on their dog. (If they have outdoor cats (which is never recommended!) the same rules apply.) Then, present and explain treatment options, if their efforts at prevention fail.
What to tell your clients about how to best prevent skunk attacks:
1. Time of year matters:
Skunks don’t hibernate but they do sleep more in winter. Winter hits do happen but very rarely. As the weather starts to warm in the spring, they come out hungry in droves. They happen in waves throughout spring, summer and fall as they have babies. If you live in a warmer, more southern state, you may not see any seasonal differences. And even in northern states, they can attack in the cold dark of winter.
2. Time of day matters:
Skunks are out most during the early morning around dawn, dusk as sunset approaches, and all night when its dark. Broad daylight hits do happen, but again, very rarely. So remember - DAWN and DUSK keep your dogs in. Most of the skunk hits on my clients’ dogs have been in the early morning, when their tired owner staggers out of bed first thing to just let the dog out into the yard on its own and does not go out with them to walk them. The second most common time we see skunk hits around supper time as it is first getting dark.
3. Walking the dog matters:
Tell your clients not to turn their dogs out to go potty, even inside your own yard, especially at the seasonal times of the year listed above and at dawn and dusk. Emphasize the importance of walking them on leash. Even well-trained titled obedience dogs will break the command to COME to the owner if they see a pesky strange mammal in their own yards. It is important when talking to clients that you acknowledge that it takes an extra bit of time in your busy day to walk with your dog on a leash, but the trauma and hassle of a skunk hit is far more expensive and disruptive. It is worth this effort to prevent a skunk attack. Besides, you can remind them with a smile that walking their dog and taking a break outside themselves regularly is good for them, too.
4. Make a plan with the whole family:
Some of our saddest client phone calls I have gotten are from the families that the kids or someone else in the house just let the dog out on its own early in the morning or late at night, when they have been working so hard to keep the dog from getting skunked in an area like ours where they are so frequent. Tell you clients to make sure to communicate with everyone in the house and make a plan together.
What to tell your clients to do in case of a skunk attack:
5. Don’t let the dog back in the house if they even remotely suspect there may have been a hit. If the steps of prevention failed and the dog got out anyway, or if they hear or saw or smelled anything out of the ordinary – strange sounds, their dog pawing at themselves or a funny look on their dog’s desperate face, etc. – it is critically important that they do NOT let them inside their home. Skunk smell does not smell like the smell we are used to right away. It smells different. It smells strong and even odd but it does not at first smell like the skunk smell we know. They may notice that there is something not quite right, but since wet skunk spray does not have that obvious odor many of us know all too well, it takes a while for it to be recognizable to us as a skunk hit. If they let them back in the house, explain to your clients that the clean-up bill in their homes is going to be significant and that life would be miserable inside their house for a time.
6. Confine the dog that has been hit by a skunk immediately in an outside area, a screened porch, in a garage or shed, even crate them if necessary. If they must bring them inside, leash them first, and confine them in a laundry area, an unfinished basement, an interior bathroom. Make sure they stay in a washable room. Don’t let them near porous fabric, furniture, carpeting, draperies, until well after they are treated.
7. DO NOT WASH the area of the hit. First, pat area with lots of DRY baking soda or corn starch. Skunk spray is a complex and pernicious OIL. If you, the groomer, or they, the owners, wash it right away, you will only help to spread the oil around the dog. Instead, where they are hit take DRY baking soda or DRY corn starch and pat it into the localized area on the dog that was hit. Doing this as soon as possible after the skunk hit! This can make a significant difference in the size of this problem. Pat it on (wearing rubber gloves if possible), then knock it off – outside – after it absorbs. Then apply more, pat it in, knock it off. Repeat as needed to absorb as much of the oily skunk spray as possible. Usually the skunk oil is concentrated in one or two areas on the dog, depending on how much tussling the dog did with it. Push the dry, absorbent powder onto the direct wet area of the hit, pat it in, let it absorb, knock it off. Repeat. Get as much off the dog as possible. Quite often skunks will hit dogs in the face because the dog is attempting to sniff the creature. These sometimes have to go to a veterinarian because they can cause injury to sensitive eyes, noses, etc.
8. If they decide that they must wash at home only do so after the steps above, absorbing all they can with the dry baking soda or corn starch. To wash at home, the traditional mix is equal parts baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dishwashing liquid. (Know that this first aid approach is not nearly as effective as my grooming shop’s microbubble machine, but I will get to that in a minute). If they can’t get to a microbubble machine, a home bath can help in a pinch. BUT be warned: You cannot use this mixture in delicate areas around the face, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, rectal, etc – it will damage sensitive skin. And sadly, dogs are quite often hit exactly on the muzzle/face area because they go at the skunk face-first. This home remedy mixture is not safe for faces. Also, be warned, the hydrogen peroxide can discolor the dog’s hair, for example, turning a darker dog orange. This might eventually grow out, but could take a long time. If they must use this mixture, be sure to stress the importance of RINSING IT OUT thoroughly. And then they should wash the dog again with a good dog shampoo and, most importantly, follow with a separate step conditioner! To protect their sensitive skin, if they have to apply that harsh mixture, they must wash it off and re-condition their dog’s sensitive coat and skin.
9. If they wash at home, dry the pet also. It is not enough to let their pet just towel dry, especially if they have longer hair. Remind your clients that skunk smell is most pungent when the dog’s hair is wet. Blowing them dry will reduce the remnant smell, but if their use a home “for-humans hairdryer,” do not use the high heat setting. This could burn their dog. Use a low setting, more in keeping with the temperatures that professional groomers know how to safely use. We groomers also know that wet dogs with lots of hair just left to air dry will dry in clumps that will MAT and tangle. Even if they are “fur” dogs that don’t get haircuts, their undercoat will clump up on many breeds of dogs. Matted dogs are uncomfortable dogs and water always causes mats and clumped undercoat on dog if they don’t blow dry out and thoroughly brush and comb out the hair/fur. Urge them to get the dog to you as soon as possible for a full professional grooming.
10. Try to get them in right away for a professional microbubble bath if possible. If you are a groomer who has not considered this technology, it is worth taking a good look. The amazing microbubble machines are the most effective way to rid your dog of a skunk smell ever invented. They were invented for human medical applications, but are being used now in everything from pet and human bathing for extra clean skin, to delivering chemo-therapy drugs directly inside tumors. They clean using just air and water, but with microscopic bubbles that are negatively charged that grab onto things, and that are so small they can penetrate skin cells and inside follicles. [Let the buyer beware, there are lots of cheap knock-offs advertising as microbubbles that are not what they say they are. Make sure that if you decide to add microbubble services to your business, that has a machine that is UL listed and certified as producing real microbubbles by the billions that are below the required size, from 2-25 microns. Otherwise you would be wasting your time and money.] The primary reason that I bought one of these machines was because of the high number of skunk attacks in our area. The microbubbles go down INSIDE pores and follicles and will grab onto the skunk oil molecules and float them out. No other kind of bath or treatment will get those extra little molecules of skunk oil out from where they hide inside pores and follicles. To learn more about microbubble technology in grooming pets, read my article from Groomer To Groomermagazine.
Your clients will know that you really care for them if you take time to explain this issue as a possibility in their lives to be aware of, even a serious possibility, depending on what part of the country you are living in. Dogs that have been hit by skunks can continue to smell like skunk for months, especially if they get wet. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
By Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, ICMG
Jennifer Bishop Jenkins has been showing, breeding, and grooming dogs since the early 1980's, while being a career schoolteacher. Jennifer has been a Certified Master Groomer since 1985. In 2014 she opened Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe, Illinois and was soon after named "Best Groomer In Chicagoland" by the Chicago Tribune. Jennifer's broad background in education, science and history, and the wider world of dogs has given her a strong commitment to making sure each pet is groomed correctly for its natural coat type, often not the case in the unregulated grooming industry. Jennifer has trained hundreds to become groomers, and thousands through her seminars. Groomer Education is her passion and her mission.