How to DeSkunk a Cat

If your cat has had an unfortunate encounter with a skunk, bathing is pretty much unavoidable. The trick is to lessen the amount of time your kitty needs to spend in the tub. These tips should help but be warned: unless your cat is used to getting bathed, this will not be easy!

Pre-Bathing Tips:

  • We recommend that, if possible, you do this OUTSIDE.
  • The key to success is preparation. You must make certain you have all necessary items at your fingertips.
  • THIS IS A TWO PERSON JOB. You will need to keep at least one hand on your cat at all times, so you need a helper.
  • This job will be messy and smelly, so make sure you wear old clothes and gloves that can be disposed of afterwards. Remember, once you handle the cat, you will probably smell like skunk too.

How to Clean the Cat

What You Will Need:

  • Lots of old towels
  • 2 tubs (one must be large enough to fit your cat)
  • Eye wash for cats
  • Grease cutting dish soap, such as Dawn
  • A cup (for rinsing)
  • Tomato Juice (room temperature)
  • Washcloth
  • Cat shampoo
  • Cotton balls

The Bathing Process:

  1. Check your cat’s eyes. If his eyes are red and watery from skunk spray, you should immediately use the eye wash (following the directions on the product). Most pet stores sell eye wash for cats, but in a pinch, try using a drop of vegetable oil in each eye. This will at least take the sting out of your cat’s eyes, and protect them during the deskunking process.
  2. Fill the tub with about three inches of body-temperature water (just enough to come up to your cat’s belly. DO NOT overfill!) It is very important to check the water temperature, using the same method you would for a baby bottle: pour a bit on the underside of your wrist—it should feel neither hot nor cold.
  3. Fill the second tub (or bucket) with the same temperature water.
  4. Place all your gear within easy reach.
  5. Hold your breath, pick up your cat and holding him firmly but gently, place him into the first tub of water..
  6. In all likelihood, YOUR CAT WILL IMMEDIATELY TRY TO GET OUT. If he has claws, this can be a very dangerous situation. A panicked cat can do some serious damage. Keep a firm hold on your cat at all times. This is why it is important for another person assist you.
  7. If your cat is not too stressed, place a small cotton ball in each ear. Cats can get ear infections if their ears get wet. If you are unable to get the cotton balls in, make sure you’re extra careful not to get the ears wet.
  8. Using the empty cup, gently pour the water on your cat.
  9. Put about a tablespoon of dish soap into your hand, and massage it liberally into his fur. Skunk spray is oil based, and the grease fighting properties of the dish soap will serve to break up the oils and reduce the staying power of the smell. BE CAREFUL TO AVOID YOUR CAT’S EYES AND FACE as the dish soap can be extremely irritating.
  10. Using the cup, rinse off with clean water from the second tub.
  11. Pour the tomato juice onto your cat, massaging it into his fur. Allow the tomato juice to stay on your cat for 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon his tolerance.
  12. Wet the washcloth with a little tomato juice and gently run it over your cat’s snout and face, avoiding the eyes.
  13. Rinse away the tomato juice.
  14. Massage a small amount of cat shampoo into your cat’s fur, making sure to get all areas. Again, avoid using shampoo near your cat’s face.
  15. Rinse the shampoo thoroughly.
  16. Once your cat has been completely rinsed, lift him out of the tub using a soft towel. Wrap him in a towel, blotting excess water (DO NOT RUB as this can be very irritating to an already edgy cat).
  17. Once you have blotted away the excess water, keep your cat in a quiet, warm, draft-free place until he is completely dry and relaxed once more.
  18. Most, if not all, of the skunk smell should be gone after this procedure, but be warned that, depending upon the concentration of the skunk spray, it may be necessary to repeat this procedure. For your sanity, and your cat’s, we recommend waiting until the next day before attempting a second bath.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • NEVER attempt to bathe your cat by yourself. Even if your cat is used to the process, cats can be unpredictable and accidents do happen. Always have another person assist you.
  • If your cat has had a close encounter with a skunk, it is highly recommended that you take him to the vet to be checked for bites or other injury. Some vets may even “deskunk” your cat for you, especially if your cat is exceptionally skittish.
  • If possible, keep your cat out of the house and away from people until he has been deskunked. The odor from the skunk will permeate anything he is near and may linger even after your cat has been deskunked.
  • There are some commercial deskunking shampoos available which may be effective in removing skunk odor in lieu of the procedure noted above, but they can be pricey and bathing will still be necessary.
  • If you’ve gotten scratched or bitten during the bathing process, make sure you wash the wound thoroughly and seek medical care immediately if there are any signs of infection.


  1. Thanks for the tips! Also, It helps to put an old towel in the bottom of the tub, folded over a few times to make it cushiony. This gives him something to dig his claws into, rather than your arm! Once his claws dig in, retract, and dig in again; he should calm down a little bit!

  2. Excellent website, excellent advice. I hope my kitty never needs deskunking.

  3. Mr. Van says:

    Tomato juice just doesn’t work. Downy or peroxide with baking soda, but never tomato juice.

  4. Cats’ normal resting body temperature is about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. They run hotter than we do. Water that feels body temperature to us is going to make a cat uncomfortably cold in a very short time. You don’t want to burn them, but if you have to bathe a cat, do it in water the same temperature or a little warmer than what you’d bathe in yourself. That will go a long way towards keeping your cat calm and your skin intact. (Please check with a vet or just read the physiology section of the Wikipedia article on cats.)

  5. Alessandra says:

    My cat just got skunked…10 pm last night, right in our backyard. Poor kitty came in foaming at the mouth a bit. I tried to give him a bath; you would have thought I was trying to water board him… ( I have bathed tomcats before…this one, just plain terrorized…wasn’t going to happen.) So, gave up that idea and let him out of the bath, then dried him a bit with a towel, and doused him thoroughly with baking soda. That helped a lot, seriously a lot. But, then he had baking soda all in his fur, which is long and thick, but it was midnight…we all went to bed. This morning, I got two buckets, one with warm soapy (dish soap) water, and one with just water, and took him to the sun room (tile floor), put him on a rug (which absorbed most of the water), and poured a good amount of warm soapy water over him with a large cup, massaged it in, then rinsed him well with the plain water. He’s still a tiny bit stinky, but not so bad he can’t be in the house. And really all I used was baking soda and then later a bit of shampoo/dish soap…a natural one…you want to be able to get it out of their fur, as they lick their fur, and regular dish soap is a bit too chemical and strong (in my opinion).

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