Pee-ew! There's no mistaking the smell of a skunk. They generally provoke a strong reaction in people because of the powerful odor of their spray. However, because they eat slugs, snails, insects, and rodents you’d really prefer not to have in your garden, skunks can be advantageous to have around.

Live and let live

People sometimes choose to trap and remove unwanted skunks from their property. Skunks thrive in urban and suburban settings, but when trapped and moved to an unknown area will struggle to survive and may leave vulnerable babies behind.

Some wildlife control companies use a process that injects a chemical solvent into a skunk's chest using a long pole syringe and resulting in a painful, inhumane death.

two skunks eating apples on the ground

a skunk foraging in a flower bed

They often get their head stuck

What is it with skunks and things stuck on their head? They frequently find themselves stuck in cups, jars, and containers with narrow openings like those used for yogurt (remember to crush yogurt cups and dispose of them properly). Sometimes they even find themselves caught in a bottle, pipe, or cinder block.

Because skunks are curious animals with a very keen sense of smell, any sweet residue in the bottom of a container becomes just too tempting to resist. Since they don’t have long tongues, they will try to push their head into the container. Without opposable thumbs, pushing something off their head is impossible for them.

A stuck head is a death sentence for a skunk.

skunk with its head stuck in a can

(Photo: Victoria Brunal)

skunk with its head stuck in a pipe

(Photo: Alison Hermance)

Freeing a stuck skunk

Skunks inspire various reactions in people, but they really are beneficial animals that like to run around eating the slugs, snails, insects and rodents you don't want in your garden.

If you see a skunk with something stuck on its head, wear gloves or use a thick towel to protect your hands and approach quietly and calmly. The animal’s hearing and sense of smell will be affected by the container on its head, so you should be able to get very close.

You can often remove whatever is on the skunk's head and back away quickly before it overcomes its confusion and sprays.

Although there is a possibility you might get sprayed, the skunk is likely to be attacked by a predator or blunder into traffic if you don’t help free it.

Better heed their warning signals

a wet skunk

In all fairness to skunks, they really don't want to spray you. Because of their easy-going nature, skunks will not intentionally bother people.

They avoid humans and typically give a lot of warning before spraying. A skunk will raise its tail and shake it as a warning posture. It will stamp its feet and turn its head and rear toward you in a U-shape.

How to remove the odor

If you, or more likely your pet, are sprayed by a skunk, the horrendous smell can linger for weeks.

1. Temporarily keep your pet outside

You'll probably want to keep your pet outside while you're gathering and mixing the ingredients so it doesn't bring the smell indoors.

Be sure to check the pet's eyes; if irritated or red, immediately flush with cool water.

freshly bathed dog after being skunked

2. Mix these ingredients

If you don't have any commercial skunk spray deodorizer on hand, mix together 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at pharmacies and most grocery stores), 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid.

Wear rubber gloves and wash the dog or cat with this solution immediately after they've been sprayed. Do not get the solution in their eyes. If you don't have the ingredients on hand, use vinegar diluted with water.

Caution: Don't make this mixture ahead of time or keep it stored in a bottle since it could explode.

3. Bathe your pet and rinse thoroughly.

Rub the mixture through the animal's fur, but don't leave it on too long. Peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse well.

4. Shampoo and rinse thoroughly. By now, your dog or cat should be smelling significantly better.

5. Thoroughly towel-dry and put the pet in a warm, sunny room for the next couple of hours so it doesn't get chilled.

dog in a bath after being skunked

What to do if the stink gets on you

If your dog rubbed the smell onto you or you happened to get sprayed as well, you can rid your clothes of the odor by using regular laundry detergent mixed with a half cup of baking soda.