Does Tomato Juice Get Rid of Skunk Smell on Dogs?

Updated on August 31, 2017
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dog skunk removal
Dog skunk removal

Does Tomato Juice Really Work?

It's one of those things that will stick around for a long time, and no, we're not talking about skunk smell in this case, but rather, the old remedy to use tomato juice to rid a dog of skunk smell. Does it really work? It may seem so if you talk to many people. There are countless folks who swear about the almost magical power tomato juice has in ridding a dog of Pepe Le Pew's noxious emissions. These well-meaning folks have shared this remedy with other dog owners, making tomato juice the king of home remedies for dogs who are skunked. We've decided to put on our investigative hat and use our magnifying glass to determine its effectiveness. So what makes skunk spray smell so bad, and most importantly, how do we remedy the odor? Read on for the answers.

Skunk Spray Can Burn the Eyes

Dog skunk home remedy, dog skunk shampoo
Dog skunk home remedy, dog skunk shampoo | Source

What Is Skunk Smell Made Of?

What makes skunk spray smell so bad? The smell of skunk is particularly offensive due to stinky compounds known as "thiols." Thiols are often also referred to as "mercaptans." Thiols are mixed with oils that are squirted from the skunk's anal glands when he feels threatened. And yes, your dog's anal glands secretions may smell like Chanel number 5 when you compare it to what skunk emissions smell like!

The sulfur content in the thiols though are what greatly contribute to the horrible stench. Sulfur is also what contributes to other noxious smells such as the smell of rotten eggs, feces, decaying meat or flatulence. The human nose is particularly sensitive to the smell of thiols which can be detected in tiny concentrations from our nose. We are talking about 10 parts per billion! For a good reason, thiol compounds are often added to natural gas, as natural gas in its purest form is odorless. This stinky addition therefore helps homeowners readily detect any potentially dangerous gas leaks.

But other than being terribly smelly, what makes skunk smell so hard to remove? And why does it linger for so long? One big issue is that a skunk's secretions are oily. This makes it particularly difficult to remove as it sticks to a dog's coat. On top of that, consider that skunk spray also contains thioacetates, chemical compounds that very slowly decompose into thiols over the course of time. This explains why skunk smell takes so long to remove from your dog and from around the house. On top of that, consider that according to Village Veterinary Practice of Illinois, some components of skunk spray are not immediately odiferous until they're mixed with water. This explains why that skunky stench will come back to haunt you when your dog gets damp.

So there you have it: a smell that your nose is super sensitive to, an oily composition that makes it difficult to remove and a special composition that releases gradually over the course of time and that's ready to raise its ugly head should your dog ever get wet. Now that you know your enemy, you'll better be better equipped to fight it!

The Flaws of Using Tomato Juice

For those who think that their dog is smelling fine after using tomato juice, I tell them to ask their neighbor's opinion first before making blank statements. Why? It's not because I assume neighbors have better noses, but because of an interesting phenomenon known as "olfactory fatigue."

Also known as "olfactory adaptation," olfactory fatigue is a temporary inability to discriminate an odor because you have gotten used to it after prolonged exposure. It's a form of sensory adaptation, the same phenomenon that happens when you visit a leather store and tell the clerk "I love the smell of leather" while the clerk remarks that he no longer detects it. This adaptive phenomenon has a precise goal: to prevent your nervous system from being overloaded with stimuli so that you can respond instead to new stimuli that are ‘out of the ordinary.’

Tomato juice therefore does nothing to remove the skunk smell as its acids do not neutralize the smell. It may help mask it, but only because you get used to smelling tomato. Ask your neighbor how your skunked dog smells after pouring him with tomato and he or she will likely tell your that your dog smells like a rotten skunk topped with tomato sauce. So if your want a dog that looks pink and smells like a rotten tomato, using tomato juice is the way to go.

The Best De-Skunking Recipe for Dogs

So what's the best way to remove skunk smell from your dog? The secret is to neutralize the odor rather than masking it. Also, you need something that works in removing the oily residue that sticks to your dog's fur. I still have an effective dog de-skunking recipe from back in time when I used to work for a vet's office. Dog owners often asked for it when we told them that tomato juice is an old wive's tale. So if you really want to get rid of a good amount of odor rather than desensitizing yourself to it, work on neutralizing it.

The Magic De-skunking Recipe for Dogs

1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide

1/4 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate that is)

1 to 2 teaspoons liquid dish soap (I prefer Dawn)

Skunk-Off to the Rescue

Skunk-Off Pet Shampoo, 8-Ounce
Skunk-Off Pet Shampoo, 8-Ounce

Don't have the time or will to make a de-skunking formula at home? You can always use a commercial preparation.


Application and Directions

Head outdoors or the smell/residue can contaminate areas of your home. Mix up all the ingredients at once and apply to your dog while wearing gloves and being careful not to get any in your dog's eyes. Rub it in and keep on for about 5 minutes. Rinse off and repeat as necessary. Important: do not store any unused portions in a container as it will explode due to the pressure building up. This mixture may bleach a dog's hair.

Why does this recipe work? The oxygen molecules in the hydrogen peroxide bond with thiols, changing their structure into something that doesn't smell bad at all. Baking soda is well known for absorbing odors. The liquid dish soap is an effective degreaser (ever heard of oil-spill covered birds being cleaned in Dawn?) so it helps remove traces of oily residues.

Always best to give credit when it's due, this recipe was crafted by chemist Paul Krebaum. Too bad his famous concoction never made it to store shelves to be sold. Problem is, the bottles would explode one by one. Krebaum states: It wasn't worth trying to get a patent on it because I couldn't put it in a bottle. So why not make this a free-gift-to-humanity type deal."

If you want to see how his recipe compares to other remedies including beer, tomato paste, a feminine hygiene product and a commercial deskunker product, visit the MythBusters section on the Discovery website.

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


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      • craftybegonia profile image

        craftybegonia 2 years ago from Southwestern, United States

        I think that the shampoo would do a better job and be less messy.

      • Diana Lee profile image

        Diana L Pierce 2 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

        I agree, the shampoo is a better choice. Good hub.