Most people can recognize when a pet has been skunked just from the horrific pungent odor that enters the room before they do. What many do not realize is that skunks can cause many health problems for both canines and felines.
Rabies is a potential danger. All mammals can contract Rabies if bitten by a rabid animal, or through open wounds that have contact with the saliva or brain tissue from an infected animal. This is a virus that attacks the nervous system and can result in death. It is a concern for both animals and people. The incidence of Rabies transmission from dogs to people has greatly declined due to mandatory canine licensing and vaccination programs. According to the Humane Society, bats are now the biggest source of Rabies transmission to people.
Skunk spray or anal gland material can cause topical damage to your pet. This can involve the eyes and/or the skin. Common ocular symptoms include but are not limited to squinting, eye discharge, rubbing, swelling, inflammation, and temporary blindness for up to 48 hours. These problems can be minimized with gentle flushing of the eyes with lukewarm water or saline. Also rinse out the mouth and nose. Skin involvement can cause itching, odor, inflammation, ulcers, and rubbing. Tomato juice is no longer the go to home remedy to minimize dermal odor and inflammation. Instead give repeated baths using 2 teaspoons of dish soap, ¼ cup baking soda, and 2 pints of hydrogen peroxide. Double this mixture for dogs that weigh more than 50 lbs. Soak for 5 minutes with each bath, and use care to protect your companion’s eyes.
Skunk spray can also be absorbed most commonly through the nose and mouth causing significant internal damage. Symptoms can range from mild salivation to vomiting, sneezing, shock, tremors, seizures, collapse, and kidney disease depending on the pet’s size and quantity of ingested toxin. It can take a few hours to 24 hours for these problems to be evident. Patients with significant problems require immediate emergency care including blood work, intravenous fluids, and often transfusions. The ASPCA does have one case of a dog that is suspected to have died from repeated skunk spray episodes.
Chemical components in the skunk anal gland material damage Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. The damaged Hemoglobin takes part in other reactions that trigger damage to the red blood cells themselves. These weakened red blood cells then rupture easily. Once enough of these cells are destroyed, the body looses its ability to transport oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. This results in cell death, as tissue requires oxygen to live.
Try to limit skunk exposure at your household. For safety, it is best to not handle wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, possums, etc. Don’t leave pet food out, especially at night, as this can attract such creatures; and keep all garbage cans securely covered. Do not challenge a skunk. They can spray their anal gland material 7-15 feet. If you suspect that your canine or feline has absorbed a significant amount of skunk spray, take him or her for veterinary care right away.