Gandalf, My Cat, Got Skunked — And I Had to Ad Lib the Cleanup


The powerful smell of skunk seeps through the cracks of your back door, so strong you can taste it. Suddenly your cat (or dog) is on the porch whimpering to come in. That’s when it hits you … your pet has been skunked!

I had just this thing happen one blustery October night when I lived in Wisconsin many years ago. Responding to my daughter’s cry to "Look at Gandalf," I saw with horror my long-haired cat sitting at the sliding-door, slowly blinking his eyes, the hair on his face beaded with skunk spray. He must have gotten it point blank beneath the deck on which he now sat.

I yelled for my husband to run to the store for all the tomato juice he could buy. He balked at first, not wanting to go out so late, but quickly changed his mind when I suggested he take over the initial bathing of the cat in the garage while I went to the store instead.

Poor Gandalf was not a happy cat, but I think he knew what I was attempting to do with the baby shampoo and tub of warm water, so he didn’t put up much of a struggle as I lathered and rinsed him over and over again. The smell was still strong so I kept scrubbing, wishing my husband would be back soon.

It was the 1970s, and we didn’t have the arsenal of products that we do now for situations like the one I faced. In fact, I didn’t even know that one should only use special shampoos formulated for cats. I just grabbed one that I hoped wouldn’t sting his eyes, because he had taken the skunk spray in the face.

Finally, the garage door opened and I had my tomato juice. Since it was so cold in the garage I decided that I could now take poor Gandalf into the house to finish the job. In the bathtub I poured half a large can of the red stuff over the bedraggled cat and rubbed it into his coat, followed by a rinse.

Hmmm, it didn’t seem to work very well, so I repeated the pour, scrub, and rinse routine several more times until I was out of juice. The cat still smelled somewhat of skunk, and now his white undercoat was a bright pink! I hoped the remaining odor would fade after he was dry.

I dried him as best I could with towels and a hairdryer, but I still had a damp, skunky, pink pet who wanted to thank me for saving him by curling up in my lap purring loudly.

At bedtime, my husband complained, "Does he have to sleep in here?" when Gandalf jumped onto the bed to continue snuggling with me. I moved him to the foot of the bed, where, luckily, he stayed.

The smell did eventually fade away, but Gandalf sported a pink undercoat for months until new growth replaced the dyed hairs.

Today there are several deskunking shampoos on the market, but how many of us have them in our cupboards for that just-in-case situation? Most of us do, however, have the following ingredients on hand for this awesome recipe, which actually works!

Chemist Paul Krebaum published his findings in the October 1993 Chemical and Engineering News, with the admonition to not try and bottle it, as it will explode. It really works, as several of my family members have had to use it on our dogs. Remember, it must be mixed up fresh. Discard any leftovers.

Krebaum’s Deskunk Pet Recipe

Mix in an open container. Wear latex gloves when applying to the animal and safety goggles if you have them, in case the animal shakes. Avoid getting it in the eyes, ears, and mouth of your pet and yourself. Can be used on people and clothing as well as any outdoor areas that the skunk has hit.


  • 1 quart of fresh 3-percent hydrogen peroxide from a pharmacy
  • 1/4 cup of baking soda
  • 1 to 2 tsp of liquid hand soap (not dish soap or shampoo)
  • If your pet is large, you can add 1 quart of lukewarm water


  • Rub deep into the coat until well-lathered.
  • Leave in 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Follow with a clear rinse.

Because skunks are carriers of rabies, if you notice any fresh wounds on your pet, take him to your veterinarian immediately.

Here’s hoping you’ll never need to try it.

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