Skunks Carry Diseases
Don’t try to physically catch a skunk. He may bite or spray you. In addition, he may have rabies, a fatal virus disease that can be spread by the animal’s bite (See What To Do If you Are Bitten, below). Other possible diseases include tularemia, leptospirosis, listeriosis, histoplasmosis, brucellosis, and Q fever. Some of these may be transmitted by typical skunk parasites such as fleas and ticks. For obvious public health reasons, some experts advocate killing a trapped skunk rather than releasing it. The skunk can be drowned in the trap or gassed. This can be done by covering the trap with a tarp, sealing the edges with soil, running a hose from the tailpipe of a car under the tarp, and running the engine for about 15 minutes.
What To Do If You Are Sprayed
If you’re sprayed, or your pet is sprayed, here are some pointers on what to do about it.
Use an alkaline laundry soap such as Ivory Soap to wash exposed clothing or the dog. Raising the pH of the wash water breaks down the offending chemicals quickly. Another alkalinizing remedy suggested for washing your pet consists of 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap. Use this brew first, then rinse the animal well in plain water. You may not wish to try peroxide on clothing.
Commercial odor removal products include Outright Skunk Odor Eliminator,ä which uses enzymes to break down the odor, Skunk Kleenä, a water-based product, and Neutroleum-Alpha,ä a disinfectant long used by pest control operators and hospitals. When using chemicals, always read and follow label directions.
Home remedies include canned tomatoes or tomato juice, cider vinegar, household ammonia, bleach, and smoke from a citronella candle. Be aware that bleach and ammonia are extremely toxic and must never be mixed together. They will immediately react to form a poisonous gas (chloramine) that can cause severe coughing, choking, eye, throat, and lung damage.
Tip: If you get the spray in your eyes, it will hurt and may cause temporary blindness, but only for about 10 to 15 minutes. Flush the eyes with lukewarm water. Apply an ice pack to relieve pain. The skunk spray is not known to cause lasting damage to eye tissues.
What To Do If You Are Bitten
Skunks usually come out at night, but sometimes they will take a daylight stroll, especially when the mother is out airing the kiddies. However, any skunk in broad daylight should immediately be suspected of having rabies, especially if he is listless, looks ill, or is acting strangely. If possible, immediately report the skunk to the local health department. Do not try to catch or kill it yourself. The skunk is trapped and held for observation (typically 10 days) and is destroyed if it tests positive for the virus.
The rabies virus is transmitted via a bite wound; it can also infect the victim if the skunk’s saliva contacts a preexisting skin wound such as a scratch or abrasion. The virus attacks the central nervous system and if untreated, causes paralysis, asphyxia, and death. The incubation period varies from 10 to 50 days; death ensues 3 to 10 days afterward. If you or a family member are bitten by a skunk, get immediate medical attention. Do not try to clean the wound yourself without wearing protective gloves, as the virus remains contagious in the animal’s saliva for 12 to 38 hours. Medical treatment requires careful wound cleansing and a course of 5 or 6 antirabies vaccinations, which are started immediately. If the skunk is found to be uninfected in the meantime, the treatments are halted. In any case, do not panic. Rabies can be stopped in its tracks if treated promptly, and recovery is entirely possible if early symptoms are treated aggressively.
The best preventive action is to stay clear of a skunk. Period. Children should be carefully instructed to do the same. That skunk may look tame and cute, but it is anything but.