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When your cat smells trouble with a skunk

Cats in Alaska and Hawaii don't come across many skunks, but a chance encounter is entirely possible throughout the rest of the United States, especially in warmer weather. Skunks are among the most common mammals throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The good news for nosey cats is that skunks tend to roam around mostly at night. However, an especially curious cat can find a skunk at any time of day.

Skunks typically stick to their own business. While cats may only want to observe a skunk, the skunk will likely perceive a threat. A skunk will turn away from an approaching pet and then spray a pungent liquid from glands near its tail. Such an attack is a good defense against predators, but sometimes an innocent cat gets sprayed, too. The offensive spray is called mercaptan; and the terrible odor comes from sulphur, a key ingredient. Here's how you get started helping a sprayed pet:

  • Keep a sprayed cat isolated if possible to contain the odor within your house
  • Try to avoid allowing your clothes to come in contact with affected areas on your pet
  • A skunk's spray is irritating — check your cat's eyes and ears for inflammation or signs of irritation — use cool, clean water to immediate rinse as necessary
  • Call your veterinarian to determine whether professional care is necessary and to be sure your cat's rabies vaccination is current
  • Ask your veterinarian about over-the-counter solutions for removing the smell from your pet's fur. Also ask about home remedies; the most effective includes baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, but can fade your cat's coat color

If your cat still appears uncomfortable after cleaning, a trip to your veterinarian's office may be needed.