Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Skunk spray season has arrived in Michigan. And that stinks

It’s mating season for skunks which lasts through March. During this time of year, the striped animal is more likely to spray so pet owners should take extra precautions. (Courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
  • Skunks are more likely to spray during mating season, which is underway and will continue through March
  • Experts recommend keeping your dog on a leash or supervising them outside to avoid skunk sprays
  • Removing possible skunk homes from your property can limit the opportunity for encounters

While Valentine's Day has passed, male skunks will be looking for love for a few more weeks, and that could mean trouble for dogs or outdoor pets.  

Experts say skunks are more likely to spray during mating season, which started this month and usually lasts through the end of March. After spending winter underground, they’re hungry and looking for food to replenish energy.


While skunks are more likely to run away than spray, they’ll do so if they feel like they’ve been snuck up on by a pet or a predator. 


Dog owners should think twice before letting their pet outside on their own, even if continued cold weather makes that tempting, said Alexander Strauch, staff veterinarian for the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association

“Having a non-retractable leash is preferred because of the pet owners’ ability to manage the distance to which their dog is away from them more easily,” Strauch said. 

“Retractable leashes can allow your dog to get farther away from you than desired if your reaction time isn't quick enough to stop the lengthening of the leash.”  

Owners should check their surroundings before letting their furry friend out for a bathroom break, especially when it is dark, Strauch said. Instead, pets should be supervised at all times to ensure that they are not being too friendly with skunks, or the other way around. 

Be wary of rabies, too: Overly friendly behavior by skunks could be a sign they have the viral disease.

That means it’s “also important that dogs are kept up to date on their core vaccinations, especially rabies seeing as there's a possibility that a skunk and dog interaction could transfer rabies,” Strauch said. 

What to do if your dog gets sprayed

If a dog happens to get sprayed, Strach recommends that pet owners immediately decontaminate their dogs outside if possible to avoid home contamination.

"Special attention should be taken to care for the eyes," he said. "Lukewarm water or tap water temperature water can be poured over the dog's eyes if the dog's head is held."

You can buy special skunk spray shampoo or make your own skunk odor treatment by mixing hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish detergent. Learn how here.

Why skunks spray

Skunks are usually hesitant to spray because of how draining it is on their bodies, but that all changes in breeding season, said Rachel Lincoln, a wildlife outreach coordinator for the Wildlife Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 

If a pet runs into a skunk in the backyard during mating season, “it's immediately going to spray,” she said. “And so that's why we tend to smell skunks much more frequently this time of year.” 

Before a skunk sprays, it will stand its ground by raising its tail. Then it will stomp on its forelegs in a handstand as if dancing to scare off predators. 


“It is very expensive on the skunk’s nutrient and energy levels for it to spray because it takes a lot of resources to build up that kind of liquid in its body,” Lincoln said. “Then to eject it is really hard on the skunk's body.” 

How to keep skunks away

Areas under decks, porches, and sheds make good homes for skunks, which typically look for areas with food and protection from the elements. They may also shelter under brush piles and sticks so they can feed on insects.  

Removing any piles of leaves or sticks from your yard could deter skunks from settling there. Homeowners should also consider putting a barricade around their porch or deck, such as lattice. 

Removing bird feeders and pet food from outside, which can be food sources for skunks, will also help keep skunks away, along with predators like coyotes and foxes. 

If a homeowner discovers a skunk den, they should call their local animal control agency to remove it.

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 7, 2024, to clarify the procedure a dog owner should follow if their pet is sprayed.

How impactful was this article for you?

Michigan Environment Watch

Michigan Environment Watch examines how public policy, industry, and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.

Michigan Environment Watch is made possible by generous financial support from:

Our generous Environment Watch underwriters encourage Bridge Michigan readers to also support civic journalism by becoming Bridge members. Please consider joining today.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now