Sunday, July 28, 2013

On My Skunk Encounter, and Paranoia

I walk my dogs in the evening. That's the only option open to me, given my hectic days. But we live on the edge of a small town, which naturally leads to the problem of skunks. A potential problem, really, but one which became an actual problem for me 13 days ago.

Now, last fall I saw a lot of skunks when I was out walking my dogs. Several within a block of my house, in fact. They were always adults, and they were always walking in that distinctive way when I saw them. I hadn't seen any since the fall, though, so I let my guard down, not watching for them, and we practically walked on top of a small one before I noticed it. The dogs managed to wriggle out of their collars. I attempted to reason with them, but in the way of dogs, reason is unpersuasive. I didn't see it spray them, but they smelled bad enough.

So, I rolled into the nearest Wal-Mart at 11:00 p.m. to buy out their supply of generic tomato juice (by the way, I got too much) and plenty of hydrogen peroxide for a solution my wife looked up on the Internet. On my way home I checked to see if the skunk was still there, to consider whether I should attempt to kill or capture it, but it was not there.

After the most traumatic night of my dogs' lives--the washing, because the spray didn't seem to bother them as bad as you might expect--the smell was mostly gone.

The next day, my wife suggested rabies might be a concern. The dogs are up on their vaccinations, but I've never been vaccinated for it. I looked it up and, sure enough, a rabid animal's saliva can get on your dog, and if it gets on you and into an open wound or mucous membrane you can catch it. This led to various phone calls, including to our vets' office, my doctor's office, and my sister-in-law texting with her veterinarian friend. Considering the encounter was at night in an area where you would expect to see a skunk, and I didn't have any open wounds, and I recalled thinking that I really wanted to scratch my eye but didn't, I was told my chances of having contracted rabies were extremely low.

But the thought still nags, you know? So I did some more digging tonight. Skunks are pretty much the source of rabies in Nebraska. In this part of the state, a few cases of bat rabies have been recently confirmed. A skunk with confirmed rabies was found not 30 miles from here in late April. I found out about the "dumb" form of rabies, which would cause a skunk to just sit there and not care about being approached.

But I tell myself, it was a young skunk--small, and without the capacity to produce a truly overwhelming quantity of musk--and probably depended on its mother for protection. So its behavior may not be unusual at all. And two nights later I walked by the same spot to see at least two skunks, possibly three; at least one of them was young and both/all of them appeared to be acting normally. I thoroughly washed the dogs, too, and found no evidence they had been bitten.

But that feeling is still nagging at me. I guess I'll make at least one more phone call tomorrow.


  1. Yes, according to my vet friend, transmission through saliva and not from a bite is extraordinarily rare. The virus doesn't last long outside of a host body, and soap easily kills it.

    Better to ask questions than not, which you already did, but I've found it key in these cases (researching diseases) to stay away from web searches. You'll eventually find a site that says just looking at a rabid animal will make you turn inside out.

  2. I think you're right about staying away from web searches.

    I just spoke with someone (I believe it was a doctor) from Nebraska's Department of Health and Human Services who works in immunology. As far as expertise in this particular issue, I don't think you can get better than that. He said there has never been a documented case in the U.S. of human rabies infection through mucous membrane contact, and after giving him all the additional details he said the chance of it is "virtually nonexistent." That makes me feel a whole lot better than "extremely unlikely." He said I still might want to get rabies boosters for the dogs, so I'll be doing that.