Cat Sprayed By A Skunk? Here’s What You Need To Know

Cat Care

If you live in an area that has skunks, you probably know to watch out for one. Does your cat know that too? Cats that are let outside could find skunk babies quite tempting, at least to inspect if not to hunt. Which often means meeting the skunk mother too. The result? A thread in our cat forums that cries out: “Help! Cat sprayed by skunk! What to do?”

Cat sprayed by skunk just now?

If you’re reading this article because there’s a stinky sorry kitty crying to be let into your home, here’s the immediate answer we can give you –

Call your veterinarian and get Kitty there as soon as you can.

If your cat was sprayed by a skunk, your veterinarian can –

  • Check the cat for spray-related injuries to the eyes.
  • Assess whether the cat inhaled too much skunk spray.
  • Wash the cat – under sedation if need be.
  • Make sure the cat is up on his/her rabies shots and possibly administer a booster.

If you can’t get to a veterinarian right away, we have a recipe for removing skunk spray from cats. We’ll repeat this again later on in the article but in case you’re in a rush, this is it –

  • 1-2 teaspoons of baby shampoo
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • A quart of 3% fresh peroxide

Mix well and avoid getting any into the cat’s eyes or ears. Do not use a detergent like Dawn. It may be gentle on your hands but it can be dangerous if it accidentally gets into the cat’s eye.

Hopefully, you’re reading this just to be prepared – as you should! So we have some time to go deeper into this. In this article, we’ll discuss –

  • Why skunks spray
  • What skunk spray contains
  • Why being sprayed by a skunk is dangerous for cats
  • Other risks of cat-skunk encounters
  • What to do if your cat got sprayed, and finally
  • How to prevent the entire ordeal

Why Do Skunks Spray Other Animals?

The notoriously noxious-smelling spray that comes from a skunk is actually produced in their anal glands. Although skunks have claws and teeth, it’s these dual glands (there are indeed two of them) they rely on most when they fear becoming a predator’s next meal. Spraying is simply a defense mechanism and nothing more. If a person or an animal (even a domesticated pet like your cat), happens to get too close to a skunk, the skunk will release their anal glands. This gives off that terrible smell. Even large bears can’t stand it, meaning the skunk can live to forage another day.

Skunks are not aggressive by nature. Unless startled or threatened, a skunk would prefer to get out of your – and your cat’s way. In fact, a member of TheCatSite once shared the story of a friendship between her cat Puppy and a local skunk whom she called Minnie. Minnie would walk in every evening to share Puppy’s meal. Sometimes she brought her babies along. Needless to say, she never sprayed anyone. She even let the humans pet her!

Minnie the skunk

Why does skunk spray smell so bad?

What exactly is the smell, you ask? It’s mostly mercaptans, also known as thiols. These are chemicals that are primarily made of sulfur, hence the overwhelming eggy stench. The smell is extremely pungent and can be picked up at about four feet away by humans. That’s probably because of the long distance a skunk can achieve with its spraying anal glands. Their spray can extend 10 feet out, so any potential predator better run fast to avoid being skunked. It’s also worth noting that skunks are known for their accurate hits. If they want you to be a target, then you more than likely will be.

Just seeing a skunk is enough for badgers, foxes, wolves, and other typical skunk predators to stay away. This is to the skunk’s advantage, as it can take as long as 10 days for them to renew enough spray to attack again. Generally, though, the 15 cc of spray contained in their bodies allows them to spray as many as six separate predators before they need to “recharge.” Due to this anatomical disadvantage, skunks would much rather sweep their tail, stamp their feet, and hiss at a predator to get them to go away than rely on spraying. This is only used as a last resort.

How Likely Is a Cat to Get Sprayed by a Skunk?

If your cat was sprayed by a skunk, they’re not the only one. It does happen to felines, but probably not as much as their furry four-legged brethren, dogs. Many pet owners have gone online to share stories of their pets being sprayed, and in most instances, it’s a dog that’s the victim instead of a cat. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, dogs are often larger and thus may be seen as more threatening to a skunk. Second, dogs have to make waste outside, so they’re out in skunk territory more often than cats are.

Some cats do roam the outdoors, though, and these kitties certainly have a higher chance of being skunked. Cats and skunks are roughly similar in size, so the stature of the cat itself may not threaten a skunk. The feline’s behavior, including chasing, scratching, biting, and clawing, may lead the skunk to release its anal glands. If a kitty gets too close to a skunk’s territory or its babies, it may also get sprayed.

Even an indoor cat is at potential – though far lower – risk of receiving a blast of skunk anal glands. A skunk wandering onto a patio could spray a cat through a screen door. Not likely, but not impossible either.

Skunk on patio

Can Skunk Spray Hurt a Cat?

You may think the stench is the worst part of the ordeal but actually, skunk spray can harm a cat in more ways than one.

Dr. Letrisa Miller, MS, DVM at Connecticut Feline Medicine & Surgery, has seen and treated her fair share of cats that have been sprayed by skunks. She says it’s often young and rambunctious male cats that are over-eager to explore that end up getting sprayed. Over one summer, she treated the same feline on three separate occasions because it couldn’t stay away from the skunk babies. Threatening the babies led to a successful spraying from the mother skunk.

Dr. Miller advises seeing the vet right away after any wildlife encounter other than normal cat prey. You don’t necessarily have to have seen the spraying to know your cat needs medical treatment. You’ll be able to smell the skunk odor very clearly. Your cat may also have other injuries if they scrapped with the skunk.

What to Do If Your Cat’s Eyes Are Hurt by the Spray

If your cat is the victim of a skunk spraying, Dr. Miller says they could be in pain almost immediately. “Skunk spray can be very irritating to mucous membranes if there is a large exposure, and animals that get spray in the eyes often traumatize their eyes and nose rubbing due to the irritation,” she adds. If the eyes were targeted, a cat could have ocular swelling, squint a lot, and they may even be blind for a few hours or days.

The more the cat rubs at their eyes and nose, the more they’ll continue to do accidental damage to themselves. Cat eyes are delicate and eye injuries should be treated as soon as possible. That’s one reason for seeing your local veterinarian if your cat happened to get skunked.

Your vet will probably wash the remaining skunk spray out of the cat’s eyes, check them for injuries and possibly prescribe medication to help fight off any injury-related infections. With your cat being in pain and stressed, the vet may also sedate the cat and offer pain management solutions.

What to Do If Your Cat Inhales Skunk Spray

During this encounter, it’s possible your cat breathed in the skunk’s terrible spray. Is this something you have to worry about? It certainly is. Your cat may start drooling and have nausea, vomiting, and sneezing attacks. Dogs tend to get worse symptoms than cats, but still, your feline friend needs medical treatment if they’re exhibiting the above symptoms.

The risk of rabies

Here’s another reason to prioritize their care after a skunk attack. Although you and your kitty are probably preoccupied with the smell, Dr. Miller brings up the possibility of rabies from a skunk attack.

Getting skunked will not transmit rabies to a cat, but if the skunk scratched or bit the cat, rabies could occur. “Rabies is always a danger, and any wounds that are present can be very hard to detect, even when you are experienced with identifying trauma,” she says, adding that rabies is fatal. A booster shot for rabies is often administered after a skunk attack.

Please make sure your cat is always up on her/his rabies shots. Even an indoors-only cat can come into contact with wildlife and rabies is fairly common and always deadly. A vaccinated cat will only require a booster shot in case of potential exposure to rabies. However a non-vaccinated cat will need to be quarantined for 10 days (and then vaccinated anyway).

How Do You Remove Skunk Smell from Your Cat?

Everybody knows about the old tomato juice bath trick, right? It’s one of the oldest in the book – though no longer considered effective, compared to alternatives. Definitely don’t try it on a skunked cat.

The safety and comfort of your feline friend should be your primary concern right now. After all, they are likely in pain if they were sprayed by a skunk. If they inhaled any of the spray or got it in their eyes, they’re going to need to be babied even more. That means only relying on tactics that will work safely and efficiently.

That’s why we decided to once again rely on the expertise of Dr. Miller. After all, if you do some digging around online, there’s not a lot of information about how to treat a cat that’s been sprayed by a skunk. Some of our members on TheCatSite forums have even shared their tales of woe with various homemade remedies of their own. To clear up any ambiguity, we asked Dr. Miller how safe these treatments really are.

What to do to remove skunk smell from a cat

As mentioned, there are many old wives’ tales and remedies about how you should treat someone who’s been sprayed by a skunk. While it’s true that some of these methods may work on us humans, you should not necessarily subject your cat to the same treatment. Instead, there’s generally only one treatment that’s recommended for eliminating or at least muting the unpleasant skunk smell, and it’s homemade.

Dr. Miller approved the following concoction’s safety for cats:
1-2 teaspoons of baby shampoo
¼ cup of baking soda
A quart of 3% fresh peroxide

Mix all the ingredients and then apply this concoction to the cat’s coat to treat the skunk spray smell. Let it sit and then wash thoroughly. It may take more than one application, but it will eventually do the trick.

Cat being washed

You may have seen a similar formula online on other sites but note that they usually recommend dishwashing detergent such as Dawn. That’s not a good choice for cats. Dr. Miller cautions against using this brand, as it’s an anionic detergent. She says such detergents “are very toxic to mucus membranes and eyes… Detergents are very good at removing oils, but what makes them good at that function makes them toxic to some tissues.” Dr. Miller recommends using baby shampoo or pure soap instead.

What to Avoid

The above homemade method should take care of the skunk smell without harming your cat. Alternatively, your veterinarian may be able to help with bathing Kitty in the clinic.

Any other options besides those two—and there are many—should be ignored. This includes trying to override the scent by dousing the cat with perfume, Febreze, and other masking agents. These are temporary, and the smell will always dissipate with time, leaving you with nothing but skunk odor.

You should also not spray your cat with lemon juice or other citrusy scents. Again, the refreshed smell will only last for so long. Since you’re not actually treating the skunk odors, only masking them, they will remain long after you’ve run out of citrus spray. Plus, your cat probably won’t appreciate being sprayed by any liquid, especially a citrusy one that could sting injuries on the skin and their eyes, nose, and ears. You’re better off skipping this method and just making the mixture we listed above.

Once again, we have to mention arguably the most popular method for erasing the stink of skunk spray, which is taking a bath in tomato juice. Cats don’t enjoy baths in water or tomato juice. There’s the issue of the acidity of the tomatoes irritating the eyes, nose, and mouth of the animal. You could end up scratched or bitten for your troubles. If you do want your cat bathed in water to eliminate the skunk odor, then it’s recommended you let a vet take care of it in their office. There, they can sedate the cat and carefully bathe them. Trying to bathe your feline friend at home without medical sedation may only stress them out.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Getting Sprayed Again

Whew. Finally, it’s all over.

After treatment at your local veterinarian’s, your cat is home and thankfully, stench-free. Now that all’s well, how can you go about preventing a recurrence of this nightmare you and your cat just suffered through?

The first and most obvious way to avoid future skunk attacks is to keep your cat indoors as often as possible. If you have an outdoor feline, then be sure to accompany them or have someone else do so each time they go outside. If you see a skunk, you can scare off the critter rather than let your cat do it.

If you’d prefer not to have any skunks roaming around your front yard or backyard, that’s your right, too. To clear out skunks, you must track down where the skunk den is. Popular places for a den include culverts, wood piles, rock crevices, sheds, concrete pads, and beneath decks. Essentially, anywhere that’s shady and offers some protection is an appealing place for a skunk to make its home. Signs that you’ve found the den include the faint smell of anal glands, skunk tracks, skunk fur, and droppings. If you are going to remove the skunk’s den, be sure to do it when these animals aren’t present. If they see you and feel threatened by you, they will spray.

Get a professional to help

To be on the safe side, you may want to call a professional wildlife service and ask them to get rid of your skunks for you. This is a smart choice for a few reasons. You can avoid getting sprayed by a skunk yourself and having to go through this headache all over again.

Please make sure that the skunks will be treated well and not injured or killed as they are moved off your property. A professional wildlife service will even take care of adding screening to porches and decks on your property that other critters can’t access. This will prevent new skunks from moving in.

Cats and Skunks – now you have the information

You should now know all there is to know about how to prevent skunk-cat encounters and what to do if your cat was sprayed by a skunk. Bookmark this article and share with your friends to help more cat owners take better care of their cats.

Has one of your cats ever had a skunk encounter? We’d love to hear about it in a comment to the article!

dr letrisa miller.png

We’d like to thank Dr. Miller again for her help with preparing this guide! Dr. Letrisa Miller is a feline-only veterinarian who owns and operates the Connecticut Feline Medicine and Surgery, LLC at Manchester, CT.

Dr. Miller is a founding fellow of the International Association of Cat Doctors and served as president in 2012 and 2013. She is also a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, the International Society of Feline Medicine, and the Veterinary Information Network. From 2006 through 2011 Dr. Miller was a board member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners AAFP) and for several years she was the chair of the AAFP’s research committee. In 2010 she represented the AAFP at the founding of the Cat Health Network, a collaboration among the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation, Winn Feline Foundation, and AAFP to fund and promote research in feline medicine.You can read more about Dr. Letrisa Miller on her website.

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